It is forty years since the women of Iceland took a Day Off and brought the country to a halt, and 20 years since we won a commitment from governments celebrating the UN Decade for Women to include the value of women’s unwaged work in their national accounts. Yet women are still the poorer sex, doing 2/3 of the world’s work, including growing most of the food. We remain the primary carers everywhere: for children and for sick, disabled and elderly people, in the family and outside, in war as in peace. Society cannot survive without caring, yet carers are undermined not supported.
Caring: fundamental but demeaned
When Nadiya Jamir Hussain won the Great British Bake Off to the delight of 14m viewers, she said she was “proud to represent stay-at-home mums” and spoke about the “negativity” she had to face in an age when mothers are expected to prove their worth by going out to work: “As a mum that was quite tough but that was a choice that I made … I’ve had such a good time with my children.”
Selma James, co-ordinator of the GWS, will open the conference, pointing to the neglect of the carer and the people who need care as the basic expression of sexism. “Women are deprived of the power that our reproductive work should earn. We are told that a job, any job, is better than caring. And the skills it requires are undervalued and underfunded even in the job market – domestic work, homecare, childcare and even nursing are low paid.”
The economic and social priorities that dismiss the carer are determined not by people’s health and well-being, nor even the survival of the planet which sustains all life, but by the global market. While the 1% more than doubled their income in the last 10 years, 1 billion children worldwide live in poverty; 3.7m in the UK, 176,565 surviving on food banks.
In 90% of UK families the primary carer is a woman. 79% of austerity cuts have targeted women, that is carers and those we care for.
Michelle Dorrell spoke for many on BBC Question Time when she attacked government plans to take away tax credits. “I can hardly afford the rent I have to pay. I can hardly afford the bills I’ve got to do, and you’re going to take more from me. Shame on you!” Many go without so their children can eat. Many do three or four low-paid jobs. Many do sex work to pay the rent. Even junior doctors (60% of doctors under 30 are women) are being targeted: pressured to work longer for less and to lose maternity protection.
A living wage for all
We have got used to measuring sexism by how many women have made it to the commanding heights of the economy and politics. Professor Alison Wolf (another keynote speaker) has attacked as a ‘betrayal of feminism’ this ‘modern obsession’ with women at the top, while the poorly paid mainly women shift workers on which these ‘golden skirts’ depend, are ignored.
Working with Women, the policy of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, recognises caring as skilled work; the SNP promises to raise carer’s allowance; and the Greens propose a basic income for all. What about technology cutting the working day without cutting income so we all have time to care? What about redirecting economic and social policies by paying all workers, including mothers, a living wage? See A Living Wage for Mothers and other Carers.
Strengthening the growing movement for a caring society
Conference speakers and participants include women from Greece, Haiti, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Scotland, Spain, Thailand, USA, and men who share this perspective.
There will be exchanges of experiences across countries and situations: from demanding the right to asylum from war and starvation, opposing racism and other discrimination, defending the environment, to fighting for justice for loved ones sacked, raped, killed, imprisoned or detained for trying to survive, for blowing the whistle, for organising.
This puts caring centre stage, not the industry aiming to profit from our needs, but the perspective of a movement which is demanding that the market be at the service of people rather than people at the service of the market.
Called by: Global Women’s Strike, Women of Colour in GWS,
Payday (network of men working with GWS)
Event: Saturday 14 & Sunday 15 November