A Question of Fair Play, Ethics, and Daring to Differ

Quenby Wilcox Having It All


Under the direction of its Managing Director Christine Lagarde, the IMF has focused substantially on the effect empowering women has on a country's economy in recent years. A study just released by the IMF, Fair Play: More Equal Laws Boost Female Labor Force Participation, found "that restrictions on women's rights to inheritance and property, as well as legal impediments to undertaking economic activities such as opening a bank account or freely pursuing a profession, are strongly associated with larger gender gaps in labor force participation... The results from this study suggest that it would be beneficial to level the playing field by removing obstacles that prevent women from becoming economically active if they choose to do so."

Lagarde further high-lighted on the importance of women's place in today's world in her speech, Daring the Difference: The 3 L's of Women's Empowerment, stating that "Too often, [women] carry the burden of work that is unpaid, unseen, unreported—and underappreciated. Globally, [they] spend twice as much time on household chores as men, and four times as much time on childcare... They are the first to be submerged by economic crisis. We must do better than this... Remember, women control the purse strings. They account for over 70 percent of global consumer spending. So if we want more spending and more economic growth, then we need to empower more women as agents of aggregate demand."

Now, more than ever before women leaders such as Lagarde, Clinton, Bachelet... are speaking out about the importance of empowering women, and the advantages of women led economies. However, with up to half of the married, female labor-force unemployed outside the home, and divorce rates increasing rapidly, those examining the issues would be remise if they did not look at the economic consequences of divorce on women, particularly career-homemakers.

As discussed in my first blog Opting Back Into the Job Market: a 'Piece of Cake', Or Is It? returning to the work-force after having left to raise a family is not as easy as is commonly believed. Studies clearly, demonstrate that due to rampant discrimination against women within family courts, women receive only 25-35% of common property assets as opposed to 75-85% for men during a divorce – with discrimination against women in custody-decisions an astounding 94% (especially, considering that women are primary-caregivers in every country of the world).

And, even though women in society are:  

  • the ones who normally sacrifice their careers in deference to family needs (Mincer and Polachek)
  • charged with the bulk of the housework and childcare (Hochschild 1989; Breen and Cook 2005)
  • the determinate factor in assuring the well-being and prosperity of their husbands & children (Black & Gregersen 1991; Harvey 1985; Tung, 1981, Shaffer & Harrison, 1998, Herleman 2008, Bhaskar-Shrinivas et al., 2004, Caligiuri et al., 1998, Lazarova et al., 2010; Shaffer et al., 1999; Takeuchi et al., 2002, Takeuchi, 2010, van Erp 2011)

during divorce, their work and contribution to their home and family in the past, is given no consideration or recognition what-so-ever. The courts, by refusing to recognize a homemaker's contribution to her family's well-being and prosperity, relegates these women's status to that of servant, or slave (if she is required to 'pay her way' out of a marriage during divorce).

The fact that, family courts do not recognize a mother and wife's contribution to society, at par with all other workers in that society, is clearly DISCRIMINATORY, and in violation of art 8 of the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights (ICCPR), art. 7 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women (CEDAW) in its entirety.

According, to the International Labour Organization there are around 53 million 'domestic worker' in countries around the world, with political recognition of this labor-force, and its rights, increasing, (as reflected in the recent passage of the Convention 189 & Recommendation 201 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, ILO). However, these numbers (and this international convention) once again leave the million of 'career-homemakers' out in the cold, and excluded from any statistical accounting, or recognition of their rights or non-remunerated contribution to society, which accounts for 20-37% of GDP (Giannelli 2010).

Marriage is amongst the oldest of contractual agreements in our societies, with art. 1:105 of the Principles of European Contract Law 2002 stating that "parties are bound by any usage to which they have agreed and by any practice they have established between themselves"; and the Cambridge Business Dictionary defines labour law as "laws that deal with the legal rights of working people and the organizations they work for". Contract and employment law provide ample basis and argumentations with which to establish homemaker's rights, but the legal community of the past decades have failed to borrow from these two bodies of law to combat gender-bias in the courts – or, gender-bias in the legal profession itself.

The matter has been further complicated by the fact that, the feminist movement in the past decades has failed to move into, what Betty Friedan referred to as the Second Stage, "a new and politically active consciousness-raising to get us beyond the polarized and destructive male model of work and decision-making and the undervalued women's model of life...transcend[ing] the polarization between women and women, and between women and men, to achieve the new human wholeness that is the promise of feminism, and get on with solving the concrete, practical, everyday problems of living, working and loving as equal persons[.] This is the personal and political business of the second stage." (The Second Stage, 1981).

Sharon Stone, in her recent film Femme, is calling for the same revolution that Friedan futilely called for right before entry of the Reagan Administration, with its backlash to feminism stalling the women's rights movement where it stands today, and spiraling financial markets and economies into cyclical crises that continue to grow, and grow, and grow.

Just as in the children's story-tale Hansel and Gretel, those charged with the task of protecting and defending, have misguidedly led their charges deep into the forest, with only a trail of random crumbs to lead them out of the darkness and obscurity.