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,” she said in her 1924 book The Disinherited Family.
“The work that a woman does in her own home in bearing and rearing children is not only so much more important to society, but so much more skilled, varied and interesting than nine out of 10 of the jobs done by working women, or for that matter of that by working men, that only crass bad management on the part of society has made it seem more distasteful than tending a loom or punching a tram ticket.”
Looms and trams may be things of the past, but 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 that recognised mothers were entitled to money from the state while raising their children.
Some women have advanced as professionals and politicians, but many more are struggling to keep ourselves and our loved ones afloat.
“Society cannot survive without caring, yet carers are undermined not supported.”
Internationally also, 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. Seventy-nine 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, 3.7m in the UK and 176,565 surviving on food banks. Society cannot survive without caring, yet carers are undermined not supported.
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 at a time when mothers are expected to prove their worth by going out to work, “As a mum that was quite tough,” she said. The caring work mothers and other women do at home is not valued. And when we go out to a job, often more caring work, it is undervalued and low paid. Those of us who are immigrants and refugees are scapegoated by politicians but do some of the lowest paid caring jobs and keep the NHS going.
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”.
Devaluing caring work devalues people. We see it in hospitals and care homes as scandal after scandal exposes neglect and worse.
Working with Women, the policy of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, recognises caring as skilled work; the SNP promises to raise carers’ allowances; and the Greens propose a basic income for all. The campaign for a living wage has taken off internationally, but mothers and other family carers are usually left out.
The international grassroots women’s conference Caring, Survival and Justice vs the Tyranny of the Market will discuss a living wage for mothers and all carers – to make people and the planet that sustains us all the priority, rather than banks and businesses, to help bridge the income gap between women and men, and to attract more men to caring.
Join the discussion on14-15 November in London. An exhibition will reclaim Eleanor Rathbone and others whose enormous contribution to the women’s movement has been neglected.
Nina Lopez is joint co-ordinator of the Global Women’s Strike (GWS) and founder of Legal Action for Women. For tickets to the conference: 020 7482 2496, email@example.com, gwsconf15.weebly.com
Published: 10 November, 2015
by BECKA SEGLOW-HUDSON (above)
I SAW my friend Henry the day before he was deported. In the visitors’ lounge of the detention centre where he had been captive for six weeks, watched by guards, we talked about how the clinical brutality of the place had gnawed at his mind, the several attempted suicides he had witnessed in his time there, the wife and two young children he was being forced to leave in London, and his fears about returning to Kenya, a place he had not seen for 20 years.
Soon visiting hours were up. Babies were prised from fathers’ arms.
Partners, siblings and children stole brief hugs, and detainees were escorted back to their cells. As we visitors walked out, I turned to the electric fence, easily10ft high, which enclosed our loved ones.
A sign was pinned to it: “G4S: Care and Justice Services. We are all one big family, no matter who we are.”
This might sound like a cruelly ironic PR blunder.
It is more than that.
Caring – that basic stuff which produces and sustains us as human beings – has long gone unwaged within the family. Much caring work is now “outsourced”, pitiful wages reflect the value awarded to it.
In many cases, care is being replaced with control, neglect and violence.
Asylum seekers like Henry, the first targets of this perversion, are far from alone now. From 2,000 caring institutions – hospitals, schools, social services, housing, have been encroached upon by an expanding police force.
Social concerns, like someone with mental health difficulties expressing distress in public, are treated as criminal ones.
Some 9,000 people who needed such “immediate care” were taken to police cells rather than hospitals in 2011-12.
Under Prevent legislation, even nursery teachers (could you think of anyone more nurturing?) are obliged to behave like police, in increasingly racist ways, forced to report toddlers they suspect may have “terrorist” sympathies.
“Early intervention” has become a euphemism for state intrusion and criminalisation rather than support.
Prisons are being expanded to fit all these new “criminals” in.
Austerity aggravates this – as Camden found last month, when a man jumped from his window in desperation after firefighters could not reach the blaze in time. Cutting the budgets of those who care enough to save lives for a living has devastating consequences.
Those of us who are sick and disabled get work capability assessments and sanctions in place of material and social support.
Mothers are deprived of income and services that allow them to raise families; their children taken into state care or adoption in record numbers instead.
It is from women, the primary carers in 90 per cent of families, that chancellor George Osborne has already taken £11billion of his £15billion cuts package.
Internationally we hear pundits argue that “in the long run” it is “kinder” to bomb boats and fortify borders than to welcome refugees, that humanitarian peace-keeping missions should include bombs and guns.
We must reject this insanity.
The week Henry was deported, I began spending time with the Global Women’s Strike at the Crossroads Women’s Centre.
A home to asylum seekers, disabled women, sex workers, queer women, victims of sexual and domestic violence and of police sexism and racism, Crossroads is a place buzzing with the struggle to care.
It might sound confusing, all these groups under one roof. Yet I saw that by organising independently but across boundaries we can appreciate the kaleidoscope of assaults that militate against a caring society and access the collective power to confront them.
As care from institutions recedes, the caring that people – again mostly women – have to do increases.
We organise food, shelter, clothes, childcare, companionship, safety, hospital appointments, court support, justice campaigns, marches, whistle-blowing – we look after each other, and we fight like hell.
All this and more will be discussed at an international grassroots women’s conference, Caring, Survival and Justice vs the Tyranny of the Market, on Saturday and Sunday November 14 & 15 at WAC Arts, Hampstead Old Town Hall, 213 Haverstock Hill, NW3 4QP.
We hope you will bring your experience and your will to fight to change the world.
• Becka Seglow-Hudson, Global Women’s Strike,http://gwsconf15.weebly.com firstname.lastname@example.org 020 7482 2496.
From a rape survivor:
There is an International Women's Conference coming up this November, which will be an opportunity to listen to and discuss with other sisters, our stories and strategies for fighting back against capitalist patriarchy the world over. The conference is called Caring, Survival & Justice vs the Tyranny of the Market, and will be on 14th & 15th of November.
I am a sister who was raped and have been working with Women Against Rape, at the Crossroads Women's Centre in Kentish Town, where a number of people have been organising this conference. The people I have met there have provided me with the refuge, support and advice that I was not able to find elsewhere. My story is not uncommon at all, and yet it is still taboo to talk about, with justice sadly something that feels just doesn't exist for women. Not here, and not anywhere.
Fewer services for women are a violent act on society.
Crossroads is the base for the GlobalWomen's Strike, a collective of grassroots organisers, women, non-binary people and men, who demand a voice and solidarity with and for all workers. As we know, a majority of the world’s hardest working people are unwaged and waged women, mothers and domestic workers who are suffering as a result of the pressures of unjust and inhumane capitalist policies everywhere.
Together with our multiple organisational strategies, stories of care, survival and justice, we can only become stronger and more able to resist those who oppress us.
Just some of the speakers who have been working directly in struggle against domestic violence and rape internationally are:
Manju Gardia from Chhattisgarh, India - (NCMS) is a self-help organization active in 400 villages. It has brought together Dalit and Tribal (Indigenous) women for the first time, overcoming years of divisions. Rachel West, from the US Prostitutes Collective, working to end criminalisation of sexwork, and Margaret Prescod – from the Black Coalition Fighting Back Serial Murders & Global Women's Strike. We will also hear about organising sexual violence from domestic workers in Peru and activists in Haiti, plus many more.
I will be attending to be inspired and strengthened and hope that many more do too.
(book a space at the conference here)
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
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
Published by Mark Watson: http://www.minorityperspective.co.uk/2015/10/28/the-international-womens-conference-caring-survival-and-justice-vs-the-tyranny-of-the-market/