Gender, Social Policy Regimes and the Welfare State

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Contemporary scholarship of the welfare state is turning strongly comparative, yielding among other fruits an increasingly rigorous comparative history. The 'social policy regime' is an analytic concept being developed to compare welfare states across time, place and types of political system. Usages to date have centred primarily on state/economy relations, giving little specific attention to gender. This paper attempts to extend the concept, identifying basic components of gender in the social policy regimes of the welfare state. Using examples from the Australian state, it suggests there are key dimensions of state/gender relations in such a regime. One dimension concerns the gender basis of legal personhood in the liberal democratic welfare state, including equality and difference in both legal authority over self and body and gender parities in obligation to contribute and right to claim the benefits of social citizenship. A second dimension concerns labour and the relation between state and economy: the key question here concerns how the sexual division of labour is institutionalised in paid employment and closely associated social policy fields such as education and child care. The third dimension of family and reproduction is already widely recognised as a strongly gendered area of social policy. Central issues in this area concern the institutionalisation of dependency in the rights and obligations of citizen entitlements and the privileging of heterosexuality over other forms of sexual relation. An adequate development of the concept of the social policy regime must also identify regimes of race and ethnicity in the institutional structures and social provisions of the welfare state. The paper concludes with discussion of some of the points of connection between class, gender and race and ethnic relations in social policy.
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Shaver, Sheila
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