Women’s Unwaged Caring Work




A

delegation of 70 women
from the Global Women’s Strike, an organization formed to win
economic and social recognition for unwaged caring work, stood together
in the community of La Padera, Venezuela, awaiting news. Global
Women’s Strike member Juanita Romero explained that President
Hugo Chávez had just announced what we had all been waiting
for: implementation of Article 88 of Venezuela’s Bolivarian
Constitution. 


Article 88 in the Bolivarian Constitution declares: “The State
guarantees equality and equity between men and women in the exercise
of their right to work. The State recognizes work in the home as
an economic activity that creates added values and produces social
welfare and wealth. Housewives are entitled to Social Security.”

 


Coinciding with the Global Women’s Strike’s delegation
on February 2, in a speech delivered in the Teresa Careño theater
in Caracas, Hugo Chávez proclaimed that on the first of May,
International Worker’s Day, 100,000 Venezuelan female heads
of households would receive 380,000 Venezuelan Bolivares per month
($185). This is about 80 percent of the Venezuelan minimum wage.
In the following six months, another 100,000 women will begin to
receive payments in recognition of their work. 


“Caring for others is accomplished by a dazzling array of skills
in an endless variety of circumstances. As well as cooking, shopping,
cleaning, laundering, planting, tending, harvesting for others,
women comfort and guide, nurse and teach, arrange and advise, discipline
and encourage, fight for and pacify. Taxing and exhausting under
any circumstances, this service work, this emotional housework,
is done both outside and inside the home,” said Selma James,
international coordinator of the Global Women’s Strike. 


Besides the work in the home, the caring work of women in the community
serves as a base of the Bolivarian Revolution. In the community
of Los Teques, like so many others, this vital work is overwhelmingly
led by women. While President Hugo Chavez has claimed that he will
“eliminate poverty by giving power to the poor,”  in
Los Teques, a city that is both rich and poor, urban and rural,
the poor are not waiting to be given the power—they are taking
it. 


In a poor barrio where many of the community members have squatted
their land, the nurses and doctors of the San Juan Evangelista Health
Clinic offer free preventative, curative, and rehabilitative health
care to the community. The clinic is part of the Barrio Adentro
Healthcare Mission where Venezuelan and Cuban doctors live in the
communities in which they serve, and provide free healthcare to
some of the poorest in Venezuela. 


San Juan Evangelista Health Clinic serves 400 families and works
in close collaboration with the health committee, one of the many
committees that have formed to assure that government programs and
Missions reach the grassroots and that community members play a
role in shaping them. 


Sharon Lungo, an activist from Los Angeles who participated in the
Global Women’s Strike delegation, noted how in Venezuela the
focus is on “addressing the injustices by building the alternatives.” 



A

t the bottom of a steep
hill, Sylvia Gonzales Rodriguez met the 70 women from the Strike
with a big smile. She is in charge of the “food house,”
which feeds 150 people in the community, mostly people who are unemployed,
have drug addictions, are pregnant or nursing women. She works with
four other women preparing hot food from scratch with the staples
she receives from the state subsidized food program called MERCAL.
“There are other food programs that are not involved in the
revolutionary project, which give food to children. We ensure that
the whole family eats, not just the children,” Sylvia said. 








This
food kitchen is an integral part of all of the other Missions. If
there are children or parents that receive food who have never learned
how to read and write, they are integrated into the Educational
Missions. If there are unemployed people who lack certain skills,
they are integrated into Vuelvan Caras, the Mission that provides
job training to establish cooperatives. 


In addition to mothering three children and running the food house,
Sylvia is a midwife. She receives no wages for her work, which is
so essential to taking care of her family and community. “This
is the basis of the [Boli- varian] process, that you learn by doing,”
Sylvia added. 


We asked many of the women how they sustained themselves. Some women
were married and shared in the low-wages of their husbands, others
worked in the informal economy—selling food or doing domestic
work. Most of the women were forced to obtain some waged work. 



W

omen who have worked in
the welfare rights movement in the U.S. have long been protesting
the oppressive cycle that forces women to place their children into
under-funded childcare and themselves into low-wage work; instead
women demand that the care they provide for their children and communities
be acknowledged, valued, and remunerated. Although before welfare
reform, AFDC (Assistance to Families with Dependent Children) provided
some safety net for families in poverty, in many cases, it was not
enough to live off of. 


In 1996 then President Bill Clin- ton, the son of a single-mother,
“changed Welfare as we know it.” Mothers lost their entitlement
to benefits, with states administering welfare, slashing budgets,
enforcing degrading and exploitative  work programs, inflicting
strict sanctions, and in some cases establishing a life-time time
limit for receiving TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.)
Mothers who have access to benefits still struggle to live off of
the insufficient cash assistance programs. 


The lesson from Venezuela is that it is these very same women who
are fighting for better schools, for health care, and for community
control of resources. Out of their commitment to justice, to their
families, and to their communities, they are building the basis
of a caring economy. 


Nora Castañeda, president of the Women’s Development Bank
in Venezuela, says “The economy must be at the service of human
beings, not human beings at the service of the economy. We are building
an economy based on cooperation and mutual support, a caring economy.
And since 70 percent of those who live in conditions of poverty
in the world are women, economic changes must start with women.” 


C.C. Campbell-Rock, a native of New Orleans, who was forced to leave
her home on August 28, 2005 due to Hurricane Katrina, participated
in the Strike Delegation. When asked what lessons her time in Venezuela
has brought her, she replied, “It appears that the Venezuelan
grassroots are really getting their 40 acres and a mule, and we
are still waiting after 400 years.” 


An exhausted Juanita Romero, who chairs the land committee and who
had been arranging the logistics of this huge delegation, reminded
us, “If we organize, nothing is impossible.” 





Cory
Fischer-Hoffman currently lives in Caracas, Venezuela and participated
in the Global Women’s Strike Delegation in February 2006. She
is a member of the Welfare Rights Organizing Coalition in Olympia,
Washington.