The ABC reported today that a brain dead woman in Portugal gave birth to a healthy baby. The woman was declared dead on 20 February this year.
What a complicated issue. A terrible decision for family to have to make, and no doubt bitter sweet joy upon the successful delivery of a healthy baby. But what are we to make of the decision to keep a woman as an incubator for a baby?
Many might claim that a pregnant woman would want her baby to survive. This is a widely held understanding of ‘a mother’s sacrifice’. It is offered as justification for what might otherwise be considered a gross invasion of human dignity: not allowing a person to die, and using a human as a means to an end, that end being the birth of a baby. Neither of these propositions is uncomplicated in itself. But before reaching this conclusion, I think that there are still a number of unasked questions that should be exposed before suggesting that the conclusion is correct. Is this sacrifice too great?
On Friday I attended a seminar at Melbourne Law School to meet Jennifer Nedelsky and discuss her work on creating new social norms around work and care. Her proposal – in a nutshell – is that all of us in Western societies should work a maximum of 30 hours/week and minimum of 12 in paid employment, and do a minimum of 12, maximum of 30 hours unpaid care work.
The goal of such a radical transformation of our time-poor lives is that currently care relies on and reinforces inequality. According to Nedelsky’s model, if we equalise our responsibility for caring then the hierarchies implicit in our current model of working life will be evened out. Care will become explicitly valued, policy-makers will have experienced caring to understand the issues at stake (and therefore develop better and more responsive policy), and our relationships will be enhanced.
Nedelsky’s utopian model is exactly what we need to shift the debate about work-life balance from hand-wringing to the genuine social reform we need – although there are inevitably some issues to be ironed out. This post distills my understanding of Nedelsky’s proposal, and draws on comments and discussion offered by participants in the Melbourne seminar. Inevitably I have not canvassed the full extent of her model – there is so much to think about.
I graduated in one of the first cohorts in law at the University of Queensland to comprise 50% women. Despite experiencing overt sexism in some of my job interviews and tacit sexism during my working life, it still did not occur to me for a long time that I would be treated any differently from my male counterparts. I thought sexism to be exceptional. As a young woman, I believed all in the profession would be treated on merit.
The intervening 26 years in the workforce has shown that the idea of merit excludes many people of merit. Hard work and talent are not enough – if it were, the upper ranks of the legal profession in particular, would look a lot more diverse.
We know this – study after study has confirmed it. We even know why there is a lack of diversity – that the culture of the legal profession operates in a deeply exclusionary way. What we don’t seem to know is how to dismantle this culture. This post forms the basis of some ideas I will be sharing at the 2016 conference of the Australian Women Lawyers (‘AWL’). In it, I offer some ideas on cultural change in the legal profession, focusing on changing entrenched gender bias.
I have rarely seen such a retweeted story in my timeline as Guardian Australia’s story about the secret repatriation to Nauru of the asylum seeker known as ‘Abyan’. This Somali refugee is pregnant, allegedly as a consequence of rape on Nauru. She begged to be brought to Australia for a termination and in the face of a widespread campaign, the Australian government did bring her here.
According to her lawyer, George Newhouse, she sought counselling before consenting to any medical treatment. Guardian Australia reports that in doing so, the Australian government took her failure to consent immediately as a refusal of treatment. While her lawyers were bringing an application for an injunction before the Federal Court, the Australian government chartered a flight and flew Abyan back to Nauru.
Abortion is illegal in Nauru.
This is not a story of the Australian government’s victory against deaths at sea. Nor is it a story about a ‘“racket” among refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru seeking to come to Australia for medical care’. This is a story about institutionalised violence against women and the responsibility of all citizens to act to stop it. It is a story about the hollow ring of ‘gender equality’ where violence against women is left to flourish.
The new Turnbull cabinet announced on Sunday afternoon brings to five the number of women in cabinet. This has largely been celebrated as a significant increase in the number of women in the Abbott cabinet – notably in terms of the number of women now holding senior portfolios. That is to say, there is now a group of women who wield significant power in Australian government.
At the same time however, there has been discussion about which women have been appointed. Many have noted, for example, that Senator Cash says that she is not a feminist; and Senator Cash is the Minister for Women. The Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop has likewise brushed aside questions of whether or not she is feminist.
For those committed to the feminist project this may not represent the ideal pathway to structural change in government policy, but I maintain that more women at the table is important regardless.