Legal Women - An Interview with Miriam González Durántez
Legal Women - An Interview with Miriam González Durántez
Miriam González Durántez talks to Coral Hill about lockdown, its implications for gender equality and some of the questions we should all consider for the future good of society.
What has the experience of lockdown highlighted about the role of women in society?
As usual when there is a crisis, women are the ones who suffer most the consequences of that crisis. And this is despite many women in care and support jobs (nurses, carers, cleaners, etc) who have carried the weight of the most difficult moments of the pandemic. Many women had to give up work to be able to deal with school closures. And when the full economic impact of the lockdowns will be fully felt (after mitigation measures such as furlough schemes are withdrawn) we will likely see many jobs done by women being the ones that are primarily impacted, as happened after the financial crisis in 2008. This is simply because there is a disproportionally high number of women in badly paid and temporary jobs - it works like clockwork. We will only be able to sort this out when we get more women into higher paid and more stable jobs.
During lockdown, many families, without support for childcare, were near breaking point; what has this highlighted about society’s approach to the time and effort that goes into running a home and childcare?
We have all realised what needs to be done in a society (in terms of caring and domestic chores) for a society to be able to work and to be economically productive. Without a certain amount of cleaning, cooking and taking care of children, the sick, and the elderly we cannot generate any wealth– and we cannot generate the economic resources that pay for our welfare state.
This is something that has been hidden in society for a long time because a disproportionally high number of women have been dealing with those tasks in a silent manner, during their spare time or as their main task. It is a productivity factor that has never been properly costed or valued. But now we have all seen the value that it has – and therefore there is no excuse not to recognise its economic value.
Often the burden falls on women to do the unpaid work in homes. In OECD countries what is the extent of that unpaid work and how does it compare with lawyers’ billing hours?
According to the UN, women do 2.6 times more unpaid caregiving and domestic work than their male partners. In OECD countries, women dedicate 1 to 3 more hours to domestic chores than men per day. Even in countries with ‘advanced’ gender parity like Norway women do 20% more unpaid work than men (though not as bad as in the US where it is 60% more, or in Mexico where women do almost six and a half hours per day more than men). On average in OECD countries, women spend 4.24 hours per day on domestic and care tasks - that is 1,428 hours per year on unpaid domestic work. Many law firms ask associates to do 1,700 billable hours per year and that is considered to be a tough job - women do 1,428 hours per year and that is not even billed, it is unpaid.
Many families with sufficient earnings, will incur costs for childcare, cleaning services etc. Should this be a deductible expense and how could one campaign for it?
I do not know what are the precise policies that need to be put in place - and I am sure that they will vary from country to country. But what I do know is that we need to start considering options. And that includes addressing the situation of families that subcontract domestic and care work. If somebody is self-employed and uses a car to be able to do their job, in many countries that cost can be deducted from tax income as it is a cost needed to generate income. But the costs associated with domestic work and childcare cannot be deducted even though they are clearly costs needed for women and men to be able to work and be productive. Nevertheless, that is not the only issue, because what happens with the people who cannot afford that help? Should the state cover those costs at least when the individuals work? And should that be done in a means tested way? I do not know what the answers are, but we should definitely be asking ourselves those and many other similar questions if we want to make progress.
What role would you like to see the state take, in relation to childcare and other unpaid work in the home and why?
This is a public policy issue, not just an issue to be dealt with by individuals or within families. Because it affects all our productivity as a society. And it is encouraging to see that politicians are starting to recognise this. For example, the proposals of Biden in terms of carers ($750bn that could generate 3m new jobs) could be a game changer for how we organise society.
You are encouraging debate on ‘how to build back better’ after the lockdown. How do You see change being accomplished: changes in law, policy and/or cultural change?
I do not have a magic wand. But clearly what we are facing is a long process of lack of trust in institutions. When that happens to a society, it is not enough just to sort out the immediate challenges that we face (currently COVID) - we need to reconsider every aspect of our societies. I am convinced the pandemic will be followed by a period of intense social change – it is up to all of us to make proposals in areas that interest us - and one of those areas is how we organise the care and basic tasks that every society needs.
Could you summarise how Inspiring Girls, which you founded, is developing and its impact?
Inspiring Girls was created in 2016 around a simple concept, connecting girls with female role models. Since then, we have made tremendous progress as we are now present in 17 countries. 60% of the girls that come to our events tell us that they discover jobs and opportunities that they did not know about beforehand. Inspiring girls is easy – everybody can do it just by dedicating 15 minutes of their time to our campaign and recording a video for our video hub. We do not look for only powerful or famous women – we look for women from every walk of life. So, no matter what you do, what your age is, and what your background is, there is definitely a role for you at Inspiring Girls.
Miriam González Durántez is an Attorney at international law firm Cohen & Gresser and founder of inspiring-girls.com
The above interview was carried out by Coral Hill, Founder of Legal Women magazine.
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