NOV 2015 Wednesday 11TH
posted by Morning Star in FeaturesAround the world caring work is overwhelmingly carried out by women. Why is it still not given the recognition and respect it deserves, asks NINA LOPEZ
IN 1946, Liverpool Suffragette and independent MP Eleanor Rathbone won universal family allowance — later called child benefit — after decades of campaigning.
She was outraged at mothers’ dependence and poverty: “Nothing can justify the subordination of one group of producers — the mothers — to the rest, and their deprivation of all share of their own in the wealth of a community which depends on them for its very existence.”
The lack of recognition for women’s caring work has not changed. And the view that any job is better than caring is more entrenched than ever.
Since Tony Blair called single mothers “workless” we have been treated as “worthless” and our benefits have been cut — first one-parent benefit, then universal child benefit and income support, the only benefits which recognised that mothers were entitled to money from the state while raising their children.
Internationally, women are still the poorer sex, doing two-thirds of the world’s work, including growing most of their families’ food.
We remain the primary carers everywhere — for children and for sick, disabled and elderly people, within the family and outside, in war as in peace.
In 90 per cent of UK families the primary carer is a woman. Some 79 per cent of austerity cuts have targeted women — that is, carers and those we care for.
While the 1 per cent more than doubled their income in the last 10 years and the arms trade has grown by 22 per cent, one billion children worldwide live in poverty, 3.7 million in the UK and 176,565 surviving on foodbanks.
Society cannot survive without caring, yet carers are undermined, not supported.
We have got used to measuring sexism not by how carers are treated but by how many women have made it to the commanding heights of the economy and politics.
Professor Alison Wolf 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.
Rathbone understood that “a people accustomed to measure values in terms of money will persist, even against the evidence of their own eyes, in thinking meanly of any kind of service on which a low price is set and still more meanly of the kind of service which is given for nothing.”
When Nadiya Jamir Hussain won the Great British Bake Off she said she was “proud to represent stay-at-home mums” and spoke about the “negativity” she had to face in a time when mothers are expected to prove their worth by going out to work: “As a mum, that was quite tough.”
The caring work mothers and other women do at home is not valued. When we go out to a job — often more caring work — it is undervalued and low paid.
And while those of us who are immigrants and refugees are scapegoated by politicians, we do some of the lowest-paid caring jobs and keep the NHS going.
Devaluing caring work devalues people. We see it in hospitals and care homes as scandal after scandal exposes neglect and worse.
Justice work is an even more hidden extension of caring work. It is usually mothers, daughters, sisters and wives who fight for loved ones when they are victims of deaths in custody, disappearances, stop-and-search, wrongful imprisonment, detention and deportation, and every discrimination.
Women are often the majority in human rights organisations, though not always the most visible.
All this and more will be discussed at an international women’s conference in London this weekend.
Selma James, who first coined the word “unwaged” and will be opening the conference, comments: “The struggle by women who do most of the reproductive work — as mothers, as nurses, as home care workers — is based on challenging the fetishism that the uncaring market is central to survival. Quite the opposite. There is a growing movement of women in different countries fighting for the right to be carers, but at the same time not to be impoverished, overworked, isolated, exploited and even demeaned for doing this work.”
Carers of the world, unite. You have nothing to lose. You have a living wage and a caring world to win.
• The conference, Caring Survival and Justice vs the Tyranny of the Market is called by Global Women’s Strike, Women of Colour in GWS and Payday (a network of men working with GWS). For more information and to buy tickets visit http://gwsconf15.weebly.com.
Carers Gender Equality Nina Lopez Global Women’s Strike