World War Two was probably the largest war in all of human history, so it makes sense that a considerable amount of men went to fight in it. About 67 million men served for the Allies during the Second World War. At least 16.5 million served for the Axis. All of these men left their homes, families, and jobs. There weren’t enough men left in their country to fill all the positions that the men left vacant when they went off to fight. That’s where the women came in. They would take the jobs the millions of men left behind, as well as all the new jobs that were created because of the war.
Over the war, in the United States, women’s employment rate increased from 5.1 million in 1939 (26% of all working-age women) to 7.25 million in 1943 (36% of all working-age women). The war wasn’t even over at this point, so we could expect that number to keep going up, at least for over the next two years.
During WW2, women started to work in many jobs that were traditionally men’s. They often worked in factories, producing munitions, building ships, building planes, firefighters, evacuation officers, drivers of fire engines, trains and trams, conductors and nurses. Some women even worked in engineering during WW2. There was a lot of debate over equal pay in jobs that required a lot of skill, such as engineering. Employers didn’t pay women as much, because they thought women didn’t do as good of a job. Most employers found ways to avoid paying equal amounts to males and females, so women’s pay remained 53% of what men got, on average. Jobs that weren’t considered to require skill, or didn’t require much skill were exempt from discussions about equal pay.
In Australia, many men who worked on farms were steadily enlisting to fight in the war. They left their farms behind. These made a lot of Australia’s food, and if there was no one working on them, the Australian people would run out of food. The Australian Women’s Land Army (AWLA) was formed to combat this.
To enlist for the AWLA, you had to be between 16 and 50 years old, and a British subject, or an immigrant from an Allied country. There were two divisions of the AWLA, full-time, and auxiliary. Full-time members would work for 12 months, with the option of working another 12 months after the first one ran out. Auxiliary members worked for periods of at least four weeks at a time; these members were used for seasonal rural operations.
Most members of the AWLA were from the city and hadn’t been exposed to agricultural work before. They did extremely hard work. Jean Scott, one of the women in the land army recounted her first day at work: ‘we were to pick spinach, and the rows stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction. Not a skerrick of shade was to be seen. We took off all except the innermost leaves and what we picked was gathered and loaded onto lorries for the cannery. As the day progressed, the temperature rose to 108 degrees (42.22oC) and the rows shimmered hazily; some of the girls fainted, being unaccustomed to working in such heat.’
These women were paid at least 30 shillings for an average of a 48 hour week. This is less than what men would be paid for this work.
Jean., S., Girls With Grit: Memories Of The Australian Women's Land Army. Allen & Unwin.
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