Accueil » 60-4 ( 2005) » La citoyenneté et la reconnaissance du travail féminin : une convergence souhaitable et nécessaire ?

La citoyenneté et la reconnaissance du travail féminin : une convergence souhaitable et nécessaire ?

Yves Hallée


Cet article se veut une réflexion sur la mise en relation de l’équité salariale avec le concept de citoyenneté. Ainsi, la pérennité de l’équité salariale serait tributaire du partage des valeurs associées au travail féminin et de la reconnaissance collective du « care », le travail centré sur autrui, qui le caractérise. À partir d’un questionnement sur le caractère universel et inclusif de la citoyenneté et sur sa présomption d’égalité, le texte converge vers une représentation citoyenne susceptible de légitimer davantage le travail féminin. De plus, l’impulsion donnée par sa croissance, couplée à une identité imprégnée de valeurs associées au « care », pourraient contribuer à une meilleure reconnaissance salariale. L’équité salariale serait l’expression cohérente et effective d’une citoyenneté, qui passe par une reconnaissance juste et équitable du travail centré sur autrui.


Citizenship and the Recognition of Women’s Work

A Necessary and Desirable Convergence?

This article argues that the sustainability of pay equity is directly linked to the recognition of values associated with women’s work and, more specifically, to the recognition of the concept of “care,” a concept that characterizes more generally so much of women’s professional activity.

In Quebec, for example, companies are legally required to ensure that jobs that are mostly occupied by women receive equal pay to jobs of an equivalent value and level that are mostly occupied by men. Moreover, such pay equity must be maintained over time, irrespective of changes affecting the firm in which people are employed. Maintaining pay equity has thus become an integral part of the dynamics of the regulation of work. Above and beyond the narrow and often legalistic framework governing labour relations, companies must now operate in a larger context that influences the regulation of work. According to this “societal effect,” national particularities are seen to influence the behaviour and strategies of different social actors. The way that companies manage their workforce is subject to the broader influence of social relations within their community. In principle, at least, practices at the level of firms should be consistent with the values of the society of which they are part.

The concept of citizenship is especially interesting because it refers both to a series of rights and obligations and to membership of a community guided by common goals and values. All members of a community enjoy a status as full members of that community as a result of their citizenship. Equality is therefore implicit in the concept of citizenship. However, in thinking about the evolution of citizenship rights, it is clear that women are largely absent. The universal model of social citizenship and its corollary—social rights—should imply the equal treatment of all citizens, including women. The notion and practice of citizenship, however, have been monopolized by men, notably because of the sharp dichotomy between public and private spheres. For women to participate in citizenship, they generally must do so according to a male frame of reference.

We can distinguish three approaches to citizenship in terms of the space available for women’s citizenship. First, there is gender neutral citizenship, which is based on equality in both rights and obligations. Having abandoned the idea that women are naturally inferior to men, contemporary thinkers accept the idea that women, just like men, should be considered as free and equal beings, endowed with a sense of justice, and able to participate in both the political sphere and the labour market.

Yet, women constantly have to adapt to male institutions. Equality can never be reached if women continually have to conform to dominant criteria defined by men. That is why a second approach to citizenship posits the transformation of the practice of citizenship in order to take account of women’s experiences rather than seeking to render women more compatible with male forms of citizenship. This gender-differentiated citizenship emphasizes the values and characteristics of women through the introduction of new human characteristics in the public sphere.

While agreeing that certain female characteristics and values are linked to maternity and reproduction, many feminists, however sympathetic with this gender-differentiated view of citizenship, think that such an “ethic of solicitude” or care is not necessarily limited to women but instead captures the very essence of human interdependency. They therefore suggest that the so-called female sensibility is in fact quite rational and universal in scope. A third form of citizenship—gender pluralism citizenship—thus seeks to abolish the dichotomy between the sexes in order to affirm the essence of this equality. Gender pluralism is therefore not based on gender but rather on the acceptance of difference. This approach ideally suggests the possible coexistence of identities: universalism as opposed to marginalization, which thus emphasizes the importance of mechanisms of inclusion.

At first glance, it is the differentiated citizenship approach that seems to be most easily reconciled with pay equity. From recognition of the value of women’s experiences and the specificity of female values centred on the family, this type of citizenship especially emphasizes the importance of women’s work, characterized as it is by domestic activities and care. Moreover, the ethics of solicitude, universal in nature, enrich citizenship with maternal values such as the preservation and protection of human life and of the environment, and compassion and non-violence. These values should transcend the private domain in order to gain public recognition, so that women can attain an equivalent citizenship or, in other words, an equitable and continuous recognition of their contribution. The idea of bringing solicitude and care into the public domain offers a way of moderating if not abolishing the dichotomy between the sexes and, in so doing, suggests that the way to achieve real equality transcends the social construction of gender. The domination of masculine values and practices and the perpetual adaptation to these criteria can only reinforce the distinctions associated with women. Instead of accentuating this difference, it is necessary to develop inclusiveness whereby there is an effective, formal and egalitarian coexistence of social identities. That is why the universality and the absence of oppression associated with pluralist citizenship is so compelling. In particular, this universalistic model of the concept of citizenship is more likely to reflect the pluralism inherent in the composition of contemporary society and the need to accept difference.

One of the fundamental problems with the devaluing of women’s work is the idea that activities involving care, particularly the education of children, are naturally women’s work and inherent to their reproductive functions. Linked to the family and requiring emotional and relational skills, which are therefore subjective in nature, care activities have historically been confined to the private rather than the public domain. This lack of recognition of domestic work or the care of dependant persons has multiple repercussions at an organizational or firm level when evaluating women’s work. The qualities associated with women’s work are often undervalued in the workplace because they are so closely tied up with familial roles, where work is often invisible and generally done for free. The enrichment of the notion of citizenship therefore requires that values related to care should be specifically acknowledged and that care activities must be shared more equitably between the sexes.

The notion of citizenship therefore offers a basis of discussion and a bridge for tackling the problem of how to articulate particular identities—that of women—with a larger collectivity. This in turn provides a key to understanding pay equity. In a society where values associated with so-called women’s work are widely shared, then firms would ostensibly be likely to make more significant investments in making pay equity work. Moreover, in the light of its importance for society as a whole, it seems that value of care should receive specific economic and social recognition, in the same way that so much of men’s work already does. Beyond narrow legal structures, pay equity could then be seen as the effective development, at an organizational level, of the egalitarian ambitions of a larger notion of citizenship but this first requires the recognition of the importance of care.


La ciudadanía y el reconocimiento del trabajo femenino

¿una convergencia deseada y necesaria?

Este artículo se propone una reflexión sobre los vínculos entre la equidad salarial y el concepto de ciudadanía. Así, la perennidad de la equidad salarial dependerá de la posibilidad de compartir los valores asociados al trabajo femenino y del reconocimiento colectivo de la « relación de ayuda » que lo caracteriza. A partir de un cuestionario sobre el caracter universal e inclusivo de la ciudadanía y sobre su presunción de igualdad, el texto converge hacia una representación ciudadana susceptible de legitimar mucho mas el trabajo femenino. Es más, la impulsión dada por su crecimiento, acompañada de una identidad impregnada del valor asociado a la « relación de ayuda », podrían contribuir a un mejor reconocimiento salarial. La equidad salarial sería la expresión coherente y efectiva de una ciudadanía que pasa por un reconocimiento justo y equitativo de la « relación de ayuda ».