by Aliya Yule
The international women’s conference “Caring, Survival and Justice vs. The Tyranny of the Market” is an opportunity to meet, discuss, share and learn with organisers from across the world. As a student, it’s wonderful to see a conference that brings together so many of the issues that students are working on, and that makes the connection with other struggles - from the decriminalisation of sex work to #BlackLivesMatter; from Dalit and tribal women in India to fighting austerity in Greece; from domestic workers in Peru to women opposing detention and the rights of women refugees, and so much more.
Common to everyone involved in the conference is a commitment to creating a more caring world: a world where, as the Global Women’s Strike say, the market is at the service of human beings, not human beings at the service of the market. Currently, women do two thirds of the world’s work, and for the most part, it’s unwaged. This must be at the heart of our anti-capitalist fight for a more just world: recognising that this labour keeps our society going, and investing in all workers, especially those who ensure the survival, health and well-being of our society.
In the UK, one in five students consider themselves to have a mental health problem, and of these nearly half cited financial difficulty as one of the main causes for their mental distress. Under austerity, this will only worsen as tuition fees are increased, maintenance grants are cut for the most vulnerable students, Disabled Students Allowance is slashed even further, and as housing becomes more unaffordable. Recent research has shown that one in twenty students have worked in the sex industry in order to make ends meet, and to reduce the massive debt that they will leave university with. For the poorest students, under proposed changes, that debt could be up to £52,000.
Whilst we fight against austerity, we must recognise that the caring work needed to support each other through this stress predominantly falls on women, as does the majority of the world’s emotional and caring work. But under austerity in the UK, women disproportionately are bearing its burden: from tax credits being cut, which hurt low earners and those caring for others most (both of which are majority women), to closing down domestic violence and rape crisis centres, many of which are specialist LGBTQ or BME services.
As the former Women’s Campaign Officer at my university, I saw how these issues placed a huge, and often crippling, burden on women students. My university – and others up and down the country - provide totally inadequate responses or support for students who have experienced sexual violence, at a time when one in seven women students experience it at university. I worked with students who were forced to suspend their studies due to mental health issues, many of whom were too ill to work and couldn’t afford a year out: the cost of private accommodation is well out of reach of most students, and yet the
university refuse to let them stay in empty college rooms. It is becoming more and more apparent that with the creeping privatisation of higher and further education, the providers of our education do not care about us students.
The issues that affect students do not stand in isolation: our struggles are not separate from what is going on in the rest of the world. This conference gives us the chance to meet with people who have been organising for decades, to learn from their experience, and to share our own strategies and ways of thinking to help build and broaden the movement. This is a moment for students and non-students, for people in industrial and non-industrial countries, for waged and unwaged workers, to come together and fight against oppression and exploitation in all its forms, and to build a more caring society.
Join us on the 14-15th November 2015
WAC Arts, Hampstead Town Hall Centre, 213 Haverstock Hill, London, NW3 4QP
Call 020 7482 2496, and visit gwsconf15.weebly.com