It’s time we started properly valuing the women who care for us

Eighteen months ago, I saw my son “graduated” from child care on Zoom. His beaming face revealed not so much pride in an achievement he didn’t understand, but a deep thrill at the presence of so many colorful balloons and streamers.

Her favorite early childhood educator texted me a picture of the two of them. Looking at him now, I still shake my head at the absurdity of a five-year-old in a cap and dress. Oh, and also the pitiful salary my son’s teacher would have received for her wonderful work.

Missing from the electoral narrative, says Jamila Rizvi, are women working in the care sector.Credit:iStock

In 2020, daycare educators who graduated from Certificate III earned just over $800 per week before taxes. This is not much more than the minimum wage paid to what is considered an essential workforce, and which comprises around 97% women. Our country’s nearly 200,000 early childhood educators also had the perverse honor of being the first sector to lose access to JobKeeper.

Like many, I sat glued to my TV on election night. A change of government doesn’t happen often in Australia, so when it does, it’s historic. Media coverage, however, has focused less on Anthony Albanese’s new government and more on the wave of teal independents — largely professional women — being elected.

The mainstream media line is that high-income professional women (mostly white) have had enough and have demanded change. They sent a clear message to Scott Morrison and the Coalition, turning blue seats into teal, green and red. I welcome their insistence that action on climate change, integrity and gender equality top the first Labor 100 Days to-do list.

But seemingly absent from the narrative are the women working in early childhood and disability care. And women who work as nurses and in elderly care. These women, who are employed in the care sector, are on the front lines of COVID and often live far from the leafy, affluent suburbs of Melbourne or Sydney.

“If you can earn more working at Bunnings than in aged care, then people will.”

These women also voted for change. They are also fed up and probably have more reason to be fed up. Our population is aging and our aged care sector will need 100,000 additional workers over the next 10 years. These workers are likely to be women, because already 86% of the workforce in aged care facilities are women – and they work very hard for very little money.

The concern, as economist Dr. Angela Jackson recently put it, is, “If you can make more working at Bunnings than working in aged care, then people will.”

About Antoine L. Cassell

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