March 4, 2009

Experts Say Women Not Yet Equal

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“Women work two-thirds of the world’s working hours, but earn only 10 percent of wages,” said Lakhpreet Gill ’08, opening yesterday’s discussion panel event “Uncovering a Global Underclass: Women Made Visible.” Leading British racism and multiculturalism commentator Arun Kundnani joined the College of Industrial and Labor Relations’ Visiting Assistant Prof. Jane Berger to speak with students in an effort to raise awareness of “invisible” forms of gender discrimination.
“No society could function without cooking, cleaning and child care, but these tasks are not considered economic activities,” Berger said. “This is a form of invisible discrimination.”
[img_assist|nid=35764|title=Listen Up|desc=Arun Kundanani from the Institute of Race Relations in London, participates in a talk entitled “Uncovering a Global Underclass: Woman Made Visible.”|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]

Berger explained the context of some of the current issues involving women in the workforce. After World War II, the global trend leaned towards government-regulated ideals. There was a strong belief in welfare states, especially since the large number of independence movements created many new countries that would find it difficult for its people to prosper without government aid. In the United States, it was a time of mass government expansion that gave birth to programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
“Some of these new programs eased women’s domestic responsibilities,” Berger said, highlighting subsidized day care as one such program. “Women fulfilled many of the new available jobs in the greatly expanded public sector, and suddenly they had much more influence in public policy.”
Kundani’s recount of later European capitalism touched on a related issue.
“The flexible economy created a demand for new workers. Immigrants and women took the low paying, dirty jobs that national men weren’t willing to do.”
The divide between women and men and natives and internationals thus widened, he explained — another example of silent discrimination.
In the 1970s, America began its shift towards the “Neo-Liberalism” trend evident in Europe. The United States deregulated its economy, went off the gold standard and folded many welfare programs.
“People thought that a regulated state undermined the go-get-‘em attitude,” Berger said.
The public sector shrunk, she explained, cutting expendable jobs — mostly those held by women. Day care programs and government subsidies became less available, and suddenly women had to return to unrecognized domestic responsibilities.
“I consider [government’s lack of mediation] to be a serious cause of contemporary poverty,” Berger said.
Both Kundnani and Berger have ideas for the future.
“The people on the left have a unique opportunity to be proposing radical solutions [to modern economic and discrimination issues], and they should be taking advantage of that,” Kundnani said. “A year ago, things that the administration are doing now would have been labeled socialistic.”
Berger agrees that “big government” is part of the solution.
“Government is being rediscovered as an entity that can work for good. Obama is looking to put a lot of effort into rebuilding our infrastructure,” she said. “But we have to make sure that these new jobs are not only geared towards men … and we have to recognize the activity of the ever-important domestic work.”
International student Peng Wang grad said, “I really understand why this series of lectures uses the term ‘invisible discrimination.’ As far as I know, in the United States, equality is more important than anything else. We shouldn’t take for granted all the assumed responsibilities of a woman. When I get married, I’m going to share the responsibilities with my wife. I don’t want to discriminate.”
This lecture was part of a three-event series co-sponsored by Americans for Informed Democracy and Cornell’s International Women’s Day Committee. The series will conclude on International Women’s Day, March 8, at 2 p.m. in the Willard Straight Memorial Room. The two groups are sponsoring a recognition reception honoring many of Cornell’s accomplished women.