Unpaid labour: Gender and the unseen work of politicians

Pia Rowe, Jane Alver

Research output: A Conference proceeding or a Chapter in BookChapterpeer-review


In this chapter, we investigate the lived experiences of female parliamentarians and explore how their careers are impacted by their unpaid care responsibilities. We argue that the persistent social expec- tation that women undertake the bulk of unpaid labour creates both structural and cultural constraints on female parliamentarians. We do this by first exploring the concept of unpaid labour, and the gendered dimension of caring roles in Australia. We then discuss the experi- ences of both federal and state female politicians who have managed a political career alongside care responsibilities. Here, we draw upon six structured, in-depth interviews we conducted in 2019 and 2020 with sitting members of both state and federal parliaments across the political spectrum. These were female MPs of various ages and stages of their careers, from those starting out to those on the cusp of retir- ing from political life. The data from these interviews is illustrative only, and as such provides a snapshot of the challenges confronted by women parliamentarians. It also serves to unearth current blind spots, both in theory as well as practice, regarding the impact that unpaid labour, particularly care work, has upon the careers of women politicians. Finally, we explore opportunities to address the cultural and structural constraints identified in the chapter.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationGender Politics: Navigating Political Leadership in Australia
EditorsZareh Ghazarian, Katrina Lee-Koo
Place of PublicationSydney
PublisherNewSouth Publishing
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781742245218
ISBN (Print)9781742236933
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


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