Endorse recognition of caring work and of pay equity in Irish Constitution
by the Global Women’s Strike, Ireland
Proposed wording for 41.2.1
The State recognises caring work done within the home, often extending to the community, as a social and economic activity that produces social welfare and economic wealth, and entitles carers, starting with mothers, to economic and other support.
The State also recognises that in rural areas caring work has included work on the land which has kept families and communities alive and strong despite poverty and emigration.
Proposed wording 41.2.2
The State shall therefore ensure that carers, starting with mothers, are not obliged by economic necessity to engage in waged work which would increase their workload, and shall provide workers in the home with independent remuneration and pensions.
Proposed wording for additional 41.2.3
The State shall also ensure that women, particularly mothers who do most of the vital work of caring for children and/or other dependants, or men who do this caring work, do not suffer discrimination in wages, pensions, health care and social welfare when they go out to work, and that pay equity, that is, equal pay for work of equal value, is fully implemented.
Current wording of article 41.2.1
In particular, the State recognises that by her life within the home, woman gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved.
Current wording of article 41.2.2
The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.
Why the proposed changes
Some have called for abolition of Article 41.2 on the ground that it is sexist. While it is obviously sexist to refer to work in the home as a woman’s “life” and as her “duty”, it would be even more sexist to obliterate the only constitutional recognition of unwaged caring work, done at great personal cost by generations of women and up to the present day, and its vital contribution to society’s survival and welfare. Article 41.2 must be reworded to reflect accurately the value of this work, the skill of the workers who do it and the entitlements it should earn them, and thus help end the gross discrimination women have suffered both as workers in the home and workers outside.
The Global Women’s Strike (GWS) – a network with national co-ordinations in 11 countries, including Ireland, and participating organisations in over 60 countries - was formed to urge the economic and social recognition of unwaged caring work. As early as 1952 the GWS’s international co-ordinator was speaking out to make visible this unwaged contribution of women.
Unremunerated work entered the international agenda in 1975, at the opening conference of the UN Decade for Women in Mexico City. The mid-decade conference in 1980 in Copenhagen, Denmark, gave it additional legitimacy with the International Labour Office (ILO) figure (conservative in our view) that women do 2/3 of the world’s work, yet receive only 5% of its income. In 1985 at the final conference of the UN Decade in Nairobi, Kenya, we won Paragraph 120 which stated that the work women do in the home, on the land and in the community is to be included in national statistics. Finally in 1995, in Beijing, China, the International Women Count Network (co-ordinated by the International Wages for Housework Campaign which also co-ordinates the GWS), supported by more than 2,000 organisations worldwide (including from Ireland), won the decision that national accounts are to include measuring and valuing unwaged work: how much of their lifetime women (and to a lesser extent men) spend doing unwaged work and how much value this work creates. It was a turning point globally.
Trinidad & Tobago was the first country to put this into law in 1996. Spain followed in 1998. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela went further, enshrining in its 1999 Constitution the social and economic recognition of unwaged work in the context of equality and equity between the sexes. Article 88 states:
The State guarantees equality and equity between men and women in the exercise of their right to work. The State recognises work in the home as an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth. Housewives are entitled to social security in accordance with the law.
In March 2005, the GWS organised a European speaking tour for Nora Castañeda, President of Venezuela’s Women’s Development Bank, and Angélica Alvarez, the Bank’s promoter in Bolívar state. When speaking about the importance of Article 88, Ms Castañeda explained that, “Women are the carers of the species, there is no work more important than that and society has a debt to women.”
In her weekly radio programme, Ms Castañeda quotes Selma James, GWS co-ordinator:
Caring for others is accomplished by a dazzling array of skills in an endless variety of circumstances. As well as cooking, shopping, cleaning and laundering, planting, tending and harvesting for others, women comfort and guide, nurse and teach, arrange and advise, discipline and encourage, fight for and pacify. This skilled work, which requires judgement and above all self-discipline and selflessness, is most often performed within the family. Taxing and exhausting under any circumstances, this service work, this emotional housework, has an additional emotional cost when it is done for and on behalf of those whom the woman is emotionally involved with. But all this is expected of women by everyone: friends and neighbours, workmates, employers (why else is the secretary called the 'office wife'?), as well as family; this emotional work is done both outside and inside the home. The Global Kitchen, London 1985
Soon after Ms James added:
We women are the first to defend and protect those in our care. It goes unremarked that it is usually women – mothers, wives, partners, sisters, daughters, grannies and aunties – who are the driving force of justice campaigns, whether or not we are prominent or even visible in them.
Recognition of the work that women do in the new Venezuelan Constitution and Venezuela’s determination to deal with poverty, starting with women (70% of those living in poverty are women), have led to other anti-sexist measures such as Article 14 of the Land Act which prioritises woman-headed households for the redistribution of idle land to those ready to work it, and the creation of the Women’s Development Bank, a state micro-credit institution which has distributed 51,000 credits so far.
Venezuela’s Article 88 has set a new standard for the world, including for Article 41.2 of the Irish Constitution. We have adapted it to the Irish situation, in the wording we are proposing for Paragraphs 41.2.1 and 41.2.2, and for an additional Paragraph 41.2.3.
In rural Ireland caring work, done mainly by women, has traditionally included making the land fruitful – tending orchards, gardens and fields, rearing and tending animals, gathering berries, herbs, etc. For centuries this field and yard work has helped to keep families and communities alive and strong in the face of poverty and emigration. Although large numbers of people have now moved to live in urban areas, 40% of us still live in rural areas and many more have roots in the countryside, wherever we live – we are the product of the caring work our mothers, grannies, sisters, aunties and other women single or married, and their mothers before them bestowed on us in times of great hardship.
The Irish constitution has never before recognised the vital contribution of rural women. It is too late for those who while they lived received no pension or other entitlements in their own right which their work should have earned them. But it is not too late to pay tribute to their work by recognising its continuing value to society and the economy, and by recognising the role women continue to play in rural life today – particularly as the livelihoods of small farmers and all who depend on them are increasingly under threat in the global market.
In response to the international grassroots movement of women for the recognition of unwaged caring work, which has the support of many men, many countries are carrying out time-use surveys. And increasingly, unwaged work, its quantity and economic value, is a consideration in court decisions and governments’ policies.
The triple day, pay equity and men’s support
Many women are forced by economic necessity to work the double or triple day, going out to one or more waged jobs while also carrying the responsibility of caring work at home. At the waged workplace women are discriminated against in wages and working conditions – paid less than their male colleagues even when both do the same job. Even more widespread is the segregation of women in service work which is much like the caring work most of us do at home. While many of these jobs are highly skilled, these skills are not recognised financially, and the status of the work is dragged down by the low status of unwaged caring work at home. To end the sexist pay gap between women and men, equal pay for work of equal value must be added to the Constitution.
Pay equity is already the agreed standard in a number of international policies and agreements which the Irish State has signed on to, e.g. the ILO Equal Remuneration Convention, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action.
Article 2.1 of the ILO Convention states:
Each member shall, by means appropriate to the methods in operation for determining rates of remuneration, promote and, in so far as is consistent with such methods, ensure the application to all workers of the principle of equal remuneration for men and women workers for work of equal value.
(Concerning Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value, 1951)
To enshrine in the Irish Constitution the principle that caring work in the home – which extends to caring for the whole community and in rural areas to caring for and protecting the land and the environment – is valued socially and economically, would ensure that women, particularly mothers, are not penalised with the lowest pay when they go out to work or discriminated against in areas such as pensions, health care, childcare, and social welfare. It would be a major step towards raising all women's status and entitlements.
Last but not least, it is our experience that men are aware of their dependence on caring work, starting with the work of their mothers. Many also agree that not counting caring work maintains the traditional division of labour between the sexes. They agree that raising the status of the carer would put women in a stronger position to demand that men, who often miss out on children’s upbringing, take their full share of responsibility and become carers too.
Global Women’s Strike
National co-ordination, Ireland:
Tel: 087 7838688 Email: Ireland@allwomencount.net
Crossroads Women’s Centre, 230A Kentish Town Rd, London, NW5 2AB.
Tel: +44 (0) 207 4822496 Email: email@example.com
Co-ordinator of Global Women's Strike
Quoted in NY Times Op-Ed: Pay People to Cook at Home!
Speaking at The Life and Legacy of C.L.R. James Conference
In the Guardian: From welfare to wages, women fight back against the uncaring market
More Guardian articles
Listen to speak in Ireland: "How can women defeat austerity?"
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