What is Women’s Work?

By Jennifer Thorpe

One of the first struggles for equality took place in the playgrounds of work. Women wanted to work, they wanted equal pay, and thanks to World War they were finally accepted into the formalised economy. The struggle for equal pay, although resolved in some industries, is not yet complete with many women being paid less for the same work. The formalised economy is not yet a woman-friendly sphere, and because of the emphasis on the ‘progressive realisation’ of these goals this process is likely to be slow and ongoing.

In South Africa there are certainly sectors of the economy where women are dominant – the NGO world where I work is just one example. In these spheres women are at the top, the bottom and in the middle. They are employers and employed. Men are a rarity, and are sometimes treated as unwelcome guests in an arena that is still getting used to their involvement. Why is it that in industries relating to care, to support and to giving are normally dominated by women?

What has been really interesting for me is the different types of work done by different types of women. Women in rural communities seem to become more involved in building up communities, whereas in urban areas it is sometimes easier for us to think only of ourselves. How do these to activities or styles of work relate to one another, and how do they relate to feminism? These are key questions we need to ask ourselves.

Another question to ask ourselves is what types of work we think are wrong for women? Why do we support a teacher more than a sex worker, and why do we think it is nice for women to be social workers but rarely head of State? Do we lock ourselves into understandings of what it means to be women?

So for the busy month of March, and on International Women’s Day, I hope that we begin to see all types of work as open for women, that we support women in all the work we do, and that we find work in the post recession world.

Good luck this month,



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