GWS is an international network campaigning for a living wage for mothers & other carers, we have been calling for a women's strike since 8 March 2000. GWS is co-ordinated by the Wages for Housework Campaign & Selma James
The coronavirus pandemic comes on top of the
climate pandemic, the poverty pandemic and the war pandemics which have hit
single mother families, ill, disabled and older people hardest. It is exposing weaknesses in our ability to resist
and survive physically and financially – from immune systems already
compromised by poverty, pollution, war, occupation and displacement to
inadequate healthcare and inadequate incomes, especially in the Global South,
in communities of colour in the North, and among refugees everywhere.
Every day and in every emergency, unwaged or low waged
caregivers, mostly women, often immigrant women, struggle to protect and care
for people of every age and condition. But this work is kept invisible and
therefore there is never a relief package from governments for caregivers, only
1980, the ILO estimated that women did 2/3 of the world’s work for 5% of its
income. Over 1,500 organizations representing millions of women worldwide
signed the petition Women Count – Count Women’s
Work as the only way to make our contribution visible. In 1995 we
won the UN commitment that governments would measure and value unwaged work in
national accounts. But still todaywomen and girls do more than three-quarters of all
unpaid care work with a total of 12.5bn hours a day.
market values this at $10.8tn but never suggests that women should get any of
they tell us to get an education and a better paid job. We all have a right to
that. But it would not deal with the
indispensable work of life and survival – from breastfeeding to elder
care. Only increasing the status, power and income of caregivers can do that.
response to the virus, country after country is being shut down – from
workplaces to schools and transport – and proposals to replace lost wages are
being debated. These drastic measures show that governments
can take swift action and find money to deal with “emergencies” – if they want
to. Now is the time to spell out what we collectively need, and
insist on it. If we don’t, governments may use their increased powers to
transfer wealth from taxpayers to corporations, and impose further controls,
surveillance and restrictions on our movements and our lives well after this
pandemic is over.
we have a need and right to is a CARE INCOME for
all those, of every gender, who “care for
people, the urban environment, and the natural world”. The Green New
Deal for Europe, to which we have contributed, begins to look at what work we
do and why. It proposes a Care Income as a key part of its programme for
climate justice. For decades we have been campaigning for a living wage
for mothers and other carers, North and South. A Care Income is a welcome
development. At last protecting people and protecting Mother Earth can be
equated and prioritized over the uncaring market – a major step in transforming
the world and saving it.
On 20 March 2020, in response to the health,
climate, poverty and war pandemics, in a webinar hosted within the Commission
on the Status of Women, women from across the globe call for a Care Income, not only for Europe but for caregivers everywhere.
Invitation to a Webinar From Coronavirus and Beyond Valuing Caregiving — the Unwaged Work that Protects People and the Environment. The workshop we planned for the 64th UN Commission on the Status of Women has even more urgency now as the global pandemic has exposed how central caregiving is to life and survival, and how much caregivers are relied on for services governments are not providing. But where is the relief package for caregivers? We hope you can join in the webinar and follow us at: #careincomenow
Selma James – founder of the Intl Wages for Housework Campaign and coordinator of the Global Women’s Strike from London; Liz Hilton, Empower (Thailand); Leddy Mozombite, Domestic Workers Federation and Global Women’s Strike (Peru); Peggy O’Mara, former editor of Mothering Magazine; Margaret Prescod, Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike and Intl Black Women for Wages for Housework; Rev Liz Theoharis, joint coordinator Poor People’s Campaign – A National Call for Moral Revival and the Kairos Center; Chaired by Phoebe Jones, Women in Dialogue. Q&A to follow the presentations.
The Webinar aims to discuss and gather support for ● global implementation of measuring & valuing unwaged caregiving work, including the impact of COVID-19 on caregivers’ work ● accessing resources for survival and beyond – free healthcare, paid maternity leave, benefits, piped water & more for this work which is central to combating poverty & climate change ● campaigning for a Care Income for all caring for people, communities & the environment (Green New Deal for Europe, 2019).
Additional sponsors: Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, Global Women’s Strike, Intl Prostitutes Collective, Empower, Women Against Rape, Queerstrike, WinVisible, Payday men’s network.
For International Women’s Day on 8 March, Grazia commissioned an exclusive survey that revealed women are still doing more at home. Writer Sally Howard, whose new book is about all the work women do to keep a household running smoothly, isn’t surprised…
BY SALLY HOWARD | POSTED5 HOURS AGO
On 8 March 2018, a year into my infant son’s life, I decided to go on domestic strike. My direct action was prompted by the shock quadrupling of domestic labour that had arrived, like an unwelcome gift, with my pink-faced newborn: the stacks of milk- sticky laundry; the endless carousel of kitchen and bathroom cleaning ; the tedious mashing and puréeing of baby food.
While my partner Tim and I had prided ourselves on our egalitarianism as childless cohabitees, I was alarmed to find that the lioness’s share of this parenting work had fallen on my aching shoulders.
And I’m not alone in this: studies have found that the arrival of a baby increases the domestic load by around three hours a day, with only 40 minutes of this parent-labour penalty falling to men. Indeed, according to Grazia’s survey, 71% of women said they’d taken more time off work for childcare reasons, the same number said they had organised their child’s last birthday party – and a huge 87% buy most of their children’s clothes.
Worse was the ‘invisible labour’ that accompanied these myriad manual tasks. It was me who was expected to know whether my baby was up-to-date with his inoculations and developmental milestones; it was ‘Mum’ the nosy health visitors addressed their questions to (women lose our given names as soon as we pop out a fresh human being); and me who had to be across such tasks as sending thank-you cards for unwanted babygros and buying biscuits for in-laws’ visits. Child covered in spew and kitchen in disarray? The blame, and judgement, fell at my swollen feet. However many nappies Tim changed, or milk stains he sponged, I was the one – in society’s eyes and in Tim’s – with whom the domestic buck stopped.
Domestic labour has always been a tricky injustice to protest against. It takes place in the privacy of the home, making it difficult for women to see each other doing this work and to collectively acknowledge that men do not share equally in its burden. And there can be dire consequences if we withdraw this labour: children uncared for and vulnerable relatives unfed. Our new cultural awareness of categories of invisible labour, from the mental load of household management to the feminine work of soothing, smiling and chivvying that’s been dubbed ‘emotional labour’, has done little to remedy women’s domestic plight. British women today contribute 20 hours of weekly domestic effort to British men’s 12, a 60% domestic labour gap that hasn’t budged since the 1990s.
In the months leading up to my first strike, I totted up my worth in today’s job categories. My calculation came to a cool £176,667 a year.
So why strike? For all their complexities, housework strikes have a long feminist history. On 24 October 1975, 90% of Iceland’s adult female population left their jobs, their children and their homes and took to the streets for a general strike that was billed as ‘Women’s Day Off’.
Their demands? Equal wages for equal work and a recognition of the 50 hours of unpaid labour that women undertook every week in Icelandic homes. For Icelandic men, the day became known as ‘the Long Friday’. With no women to staff desks and tills, banks, factories and shops were forced to close, as were schools and nurseries – leaving fathers with no choice but to take their children to work. (There were news reports of men bulk-buying colouring crayons and quick-cook sausages.)
Forty-five years after Women’s Day Off, its legacy lives on, with Iceland ranked top in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, an index that examines educational opportunities, life expectancy, pay equity and the average time spent each day on housework.
In the same era, feminists abandoned their domestic duties to march on New York and Washington DC, bearing placards that called out the injustices of what was then dubbed ‘women’s work’: ‘Housewives are unpaid slave labourers!’ ‘Tell him what to do with the broom!’ and, brilliantly, ‘Don’t iron while the strike is hot!’.
American feminist activist group Wages for Housework tried to quantify the financial value of women’s unpaid labour to the economy, figuring that the 1970s housewife’s combined skills of cook/ dietician, domestic cleaner, hostess, book-keeper, party organiser and chauffeur – among other diverse skills – would come to $60,000 a year (£100,000 in today’s money).
In the months leading up to my first strike, I totted up my worth in today’s job categories. My back-of-a-rusk-packet calculation came to a cool £176,667 a year, for cleaning (£19,946), private cheffing (£50,000), advanced PA £35,000), nannying (£34,721) and life-coaching services (£37,000).
So how did my first strike go? The first stumbling block was the date. With Tim at work on International Women’s Day (8 March) and my son not booked into nursery, I was in charge of a small kid with no childcare to hand. Striking on IWD would constitute child neglect and, as I scrambled around for untested babysitters, would supplant my day’s labour with a mental load of administrative chores.
I decided instead on a 9 March private direct action – a home strike! – which extended, in the end, from 8am to 5pm (time of the nursery pick-up), then from 7.15pm onwards. I didn’t tell Tim why our flat had descended into chaos until the following evening, when he confided he’d been quite pleased to cook his own pasta and eat at a Continental hour, but had wondered why Leo had gone to bed in a sleeping bag that smelled ‘more than faintly of piss’. But, after the shock of the strike sunk in, the message landed: I wanted Tim to acknowledge the work that, to many men, registers as non-work – present buying, managing domestic calendars and, among many other tasks, auditioning and arranging childcare.
Women are once more seeing the potential in withdrawing their labour en masse. International Women’s Strike, also known as Paro Internacional de Mujeres, is a global movement that staged its first action on IWD 2018 (when I was busy collecting strewn raisins off the floor of a Lewisham soft-play), with a series of strikes across Spain and South America. In Madrid and Barcelona, male feminists staffed communal nurseries as women marched for recognition of the 26.5 hours of weekly domestic labour Spanish women contribute compared to Spanish men’s 14, and the symbol of the strike, cooking aprons, fluttered from apartment balconies.
What would Britain look like if women downed tools for a day? We might soon find out. On 8 March 2020, tens of thousands of women will gather in London’s Cavendish Square for International Women’s Strike 2020. Dressed in red, #westrike will take place alongside women who are affected by the devaluation of women’s work in the public sphere: care workers, cleaners of hotels and private homes and NHS nurses. Our march is against structural sexism and racism and the lazy assumption that women will always be there to wipe, mop, blow noses and pick up the pieces after men’s actions.
Will you, too, down domestic tools and learn to say a resounding ‘no!’ to the work that’s ascribed to women on the basis of nothing but the shape of our genitals? If a day’s tricky, why not try what Selma James of Wages For Housework calls a ‘small resistance’? Head out for a solo walk, forget about the ironing or sweating over Sunday lunch; bang the pots and pans.
Whatever you do, step away from the squeegee, Grazia comradistas. Don’t iron while the strike’s hot!
As part of our current exhibition All You Need’s An Excuse, please join us for a special screening of a recent acquisition by the London Community Video Archive (LCVA), All Work and No Pay, made in 1975 by the Power of Women Collective and Wages for Housework Campaign, and broadcast in 1976 by the community access unit for the BBC, Open Door. The programme provided much-needed airtime where the demand for wages for housework could be put forward. The video shows meetings and interviews with groups in different countries developing campaign strategies and women of different races and nationalities sharing their experiences.
The screening will be introduced by women from the Global Women’s Strike, based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in Kentish Town. GWS have also chosen to screen Women of the Rhondda(1973) made collectively by Esther Ronay, Mary Kelly, Mary Capps, Humphrey Trevelyan, Margaret Dickinson, Brigid Seagrave and Susan Shapiro. Distributed by Cinenova.
The event is free and all are welcome. Refreshments will be provided.
Selma James in Hunger Magazine
“READ THE MOST INSPIRING QUOTES FROM THE WOMEN OF HUNGER 14”
“In the recent months what has happened is that women in prominent positions have complained about what they suffer, and that has been very useful. It can be even more useful when they include the rest of us in their complaint. You can move high up in society but you still suffer from injustices because the rest of us do. You can’t escape your identification with those down below you – you get it because we get it. It’s systemic. The entire system has to change before everybody will be free.”
EQUAL PAY: SELMA JAMES Co-ordinator of the Global Women’s Strike and author of Sex, Race & Class – The Perspective of Winning
“[I want] wages for housework. Equal pay. Safety from violence and bullying.”
Equal pay was a defining theme in the responses to the What Women Want 2.0 survey, showing that, despite commitments from companies and government, little progress has been made.
But change is coming. Women are making headlines by confronting employers who take advantage, sexually and with gross pay differentials! Even women who rose from the ranks are speaking out, acknowledging that they are not immune from sexist discrimination; they are making a way for the rest of us to be heard – finally.
Pay is social power; it determines how we live, with whom and on what terms. I once worked in a tobacco warehouse
when women on the assembly line were about to get equal pay with men who shifted stock. In our excitement, one woman proclaimed: “From now on I’m paying half the mortgage, and that’ll change everything between us!”
Of course, women want jobs we enjoy, but most of us go out to work because we have to.
Wages measure the value of our time – which happens to be our life. When our wages are lower than men’s, we are disrespected and undermined. In the UK, the pay gap hovers around 19.2%.
Inequality of income is inseparable from the unpaid caring work most women do at home, especially if we are mothers. In 2006, Baroness Alison Wolf showed how different sectors of women are affected by this. She compared women’s incomes with the incomes of their male partners over a lifetime. A woman graduate born in 1970 with two children can expect lifetime earnings that are 88% of her male partner; 57% for women with middle level qualifications; and 34% for women without formal qualifications.
These income gaps reflect part-time work and career breaks for the 80% of UK women who are mothers. It’s like an employment tax on motherhood, felt most heavily by women who have least. But even non-mothers are expected to put up with less. Employers know what they can get away with in terms of discrimination, not only on grounds of gender but also of race, age, disability and immigration status.
A century ago, suffragette MP Eleanor Rathbone was outraged that mothers who made society were denied “any share in its wealth”. She spent her life campaigning for Family Allowance, introduced in 1946, the first act of the welfare state. She wanted this income to give mothers a level playing field to negotiate equal pay. And in 1968, the strike of the Ford Dagenham women established “comparable worth” – equal pay for work of equal value – and won us the 1970 Equal Pay Act. But jobs like caring, cooking, cleaning remained “women’s work” – undervalued and underpaid. Then the austerity cuts, 86% of which fell on women, created an employers’ market and women’s power to refuse even barbaric zero-hours contracts almost evaporated.
Now the struggle has resumed, everywhere, and it increasingly focuses on caring. In Ireland, an employment tribunal ruled that “caring responsibilities” had been used to discriminate against women academics. In Germany, thousands of metal workers downed tools for a 28-hour working week if they needed to care for children or ageing parents. “We want employers to recognise that traditional gender roles in modern families are changing, and we want workers to have the chance to do work that is important to society,” said a union spokesperson.
Paid time to care is on the agenda. Just when new technology threatens to massively cut jobs, the status of caring is rising. We might reconsider Virginia Woolf’s call for “a living wage for mothers”, updated to include all carers and all genders. What an opportunity!
Para 247 of the Platform for Action agreed at the UN Forth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995. The fact that environmental degradation results in more work for women, and that eradicating poverty is indispensable to sustainable development, were included after lobbying by the International Women Count Network. The IWCN – with the support of 1,200 Non-Governmental Organizations worldwide – also won a commitment in the Platform for Action to measure and value unwaged work.
The International Women Count Network – organizations and individuals who support measuring and valuing unwaged in satellite accounts of the GDP – in Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Guyana, India, Ireland, Italy, The Netherlands, The Philippines, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, UK, USA. Co-ordinated by the International Wages for Housework Campaign and International Black Women for Wages for Housework.