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 more work.
In 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 today women and girls do more than three-quarters of all unpaid care work with a total of 12.5bn hours a day.
The market values this at $10.8tn but never suggests that women should get any of it.
Instead 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.
In 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.
What 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.