Sunday, June 14, 2009

Over worked, under paid over .....?

Does house work have value? A court ruling argues that it does.
Court ruling puts value on house work
Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post
Published: Friday, June 12, 2009
After decades of women's rights advocacy and slow but steady social change, women have legitimized their right to work outside the home. But for those who still choose to forgo a career to manage the household, the battle for recognition of their often-belittled domestic work has been ongoing.
For Claudia McIntyre, a mother of two who suffers chronic pain after a car crash, that battle finagled its way into the courtroom, inadvertently prompting a landmark decision recently, which says housework is so important that it may actually be integral to a woman's identity.
The groundbreaking Ontario Court of Appeal decision may point to a more widespread cultural shift, one that increasingly values housework and understands that such seemingly menial tasks as vacuuming and dusting are actually sources of pride and self-esteem.
Yet while some onlookers are ecstatic about a decision that recognizes the importance of maintaining a home, others argue the compensation is unjustifiable, glorifies everyday tasks and actually marks a step backward for women's rights.
"I can imagine some feminists are not excited by this," said Diane Watts, researcher for REAL Women Canada, a woman's advocacy group that emphasizes traditional family life. "I don't think feminism really values a person's work in the home."
For such groups as Ms. Watts's, the case helps validate housework as a legitimate contribution to society and to the well-being of the family.
"[Ms. McIntyre] has lost, to her, an important part of her life," Ms. Watts said. "This is an important decision in terms of recognition, in terms of recognizing her important contribution to her family and what that contribution means for her identity."
"This is a practical acknowledgment that a loss of pride is worth something," said Alan Rachlin, lawyer for Ms. McIntyre. "This is a very important decision for women's rights and personal-injury cases."
Ottawa University law professor Bruce Feldthusen said the case is "good news symbolically," adding that it upholds a perspective that recognizes the value of housework to the woman herself. "Back in Roman law, it was the husband who could claim for loss of his wife's services," Professor Feldthusen said. "Look how far we've come: This case really talks about a woman's inability to provide these services as her own loss."
Of the $60,000 in housekeeping damages recently awarded to Ms. McIntyre, $5,000 was specifically allotted for ‘‘housekeeping inefficiency'' - an inability to maintain the home that, the judge said, negatively affected the Windsor mother's sense of identity. Indeed, Ms. McIntyre, described by friends and family as a "clean freak," had always dreamed of being the kind of wife and parent that her own mother was: a doting woman who managed the house and looked after the children.
"Maintaining the home was part of my day and part of my identity," said Ms. McIntyre, who was also a part-time bookkeeper at the time of the accident in 2000.
"It's hard on me as a mother and as a wife, both mentally and physically, to no longer be able to do the things around the house that I used to do," she said.
Today, Ms. McIntyre said she struggles through her pain to do some of the cooking, cleaning, and gardening, though she has enlisted the help of family members to do the heavier work of taking out the trash, cleaning windows and hanging laundry.
In years past, courts have compensated victims and their families for lost housekeeping capacity, awarding money to outsource the housework or allotting compensation if another family member picks up the slack. It was not until 1990 that the first provincial court, Saskatchewan, decided that an inability to do housework should be treated as a separate heading under the category of "non-pecuniary general damages," which are awarded for pain and suffering.
Since Saskatchewan's groundbreaking 1990 decision, P.E.I, Alberta, Manitoba, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and New Brunswick have all recognized that an inability to manage a home could correlate to a loss of self-esteem and even an identity crisis.
"At one point, women were treated virtually as chattel, but common law has evolved over time," Mr. Rachlin said, adding that Ms. McIntyre is not a women's rights advocate, but rather represents "every woman."
Indeed, the mother of two said she was surprised some onlookers were thrilled by the decision, as she was largely unconcerned with making a public statement.
Court documents show the judges were sympathetic to Ms. McIntyre's self-esteem issues, referring often to the notion that housework can be a source of self-worth.
"The modern law of damages recognizes that work, whether employment outside the home or housekeeping inside the home, provides a human being with an important sense of purpose and contribution, the loss of which is a personal loss to the plaintiff," said Justice Susan Lang in the judgment endorsed by Justices Paul Rouleau and David Watt.
"This is because a plaintiff's pre-accident housekeeping would have contributed to his or her sense of identity in the same way that an income-earning plaintiff would perceive his or her earnings to be a valuable contribution to the family's financial health. Loss of either type of contribution diminishes one's sense of identity."
Professor Feldthusen said the recent decision helps set a precedent for future cases in Ontario and beyond.
"This is about symbols," he said. "It's about levelling the playing field."


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