Global Women’s Strike argue it’s time to stand up for women’s unpaid care work.
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 two thirds of the world’s work, including growing most of the food. We care 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.
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 two or three low paid jobs. Many do sex work to pay the rent. Even junior doctors (60% of whom are women under 30) are being targeted: pressured to work longer for less and to lose their maternity protection.
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 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.
We are told that a job, any job, is better than caring
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 an age when mothers are expected to prove their worth by going out to work: “As a mum that was quite tough.”
Selma James, co-ordinator of the GWS, points to the neglect of the carer and the people who need care as the basis of sexism. “They don’t want women to have 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. Caring is not just an industry profiting 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.”
A living wage for all, including mothers and other carers
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. And what about technology cutting the working day rather than wages so we all have time to care? What about redirecting economic and social policies by paying all workers, including mothers, a living wage? That would make people and the planet which sustains us all the priority, rather than banks and businesses; help bridge the income gap between women and men; and attract more men to caring.