Domestic workers declare war on the War on Women

Last week, domestic workers declared war on the War on Women.

The current domestic laborers’ market has been forged in the most recent phase of globalization – understood, too briefly, as the political economy of globalized production serving a global market – that began in the 1970s. The last four decades have been marked by the rise of global cities, and mega-slums. Already, more than half the world population is urban. Soon, very soon, more than half the world population will live in slums. A planet of slums beckons.

Cities are the place, and slums are the face of urban poverty in the new millennium. And that face is a woman’s face “Women bear the brunt of problems associated with slum life.”

Global cities produce mega-slums and slum cities. Meanwhile, global cities’ 25-hour-a-day, 8-day-a-week so-called service economies require large numbers of easily available, and replaceable, and cheap domestic workers who make sure the beds are made; the food prepared and tasty; the children and the elders cared for; the houses swept; and the structures of household, community, regional, national and global patriarchy solidified and intensified. Political economists tell us that the new economies produced social workers, workers in the information sector whose work is more than and different from the binary of boss and worker. Tell that to the maids and nannies, childcare and eldercare providers (as well as the hotel and office cleaners, and sex workers) across the globe who every day, and every night, make sure everything is neat, tidy and available. It’s a world economy in which women, especially women of color, are forced to care.

In order to meet this demand, nation-States, the Philippines most notably, have turned themselves inside out and, presto, turned into mega-brokerage houses for mass migrations of domestic workers. Global cities demanded, and created, transnational domestic labor, which became one of the fastest growing, and largest, labor sectors of the world economy.

Women workers built the global economy, which came to rely, violently, on women workers. The feminization of the new industrial workforce produced the feminization of migration, which in turn produced the feminization of survival, and all of it, the whole system, sits heavily, and precariously, on the shoulders and in the arms of domestic workers.

That is one reason that the ILO Convention Concerning Decent Work for Domestic Workers, passed last week, is called a landmark treaty, a milestone. Here is a key section from that document:

“Considering that domestic work continues to be undervalued and invisible and is mainly carried out by women and girls, many of whom are migrants or members of disadvantaged communities and who are particularly vulnerable to discrimination in respect of conditions of employment and of work, and to other abuses of human rights, and

Considering also that in developing countries with historically scarce opportunities for formal employment, domestic workers constitute a significant proportion of the national workforce and remain among the most marginalized …

Recognizing the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out that make it desirable to supplement the general standards with standards specific to domestic workers so as to enable them to enjoy their rights fully.”

Women and girls are “the special conditions under which domestic work is carried out.”

“Special conditions”.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, W.E.B Du Bois famously noted “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line.” For Du Bois the color line came down to a simple, and impossible, question: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Today, the problem of the Twenty First Century continues to be the problem of the color line, and the question now is, “How does it feel to be a special condition?”

Domestic workers around the world, and in our neighborhoods, recognize that question as part of a global War on Women, and they have had enough. Domestic workers refuse to be ghosts in the machinery of “special conditions.” They have declared war on the War on Women. Step up, step up, it’s not too late to enlist.

 

(Photo Credit: Asian Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development: http://apwld.org)

 

Women and girl refugees haunt the world

Refugee statistics from the UNHCR

Today, June 20, 2011, is World Refugee Day. To honor this, the United Nations Refugee Agency released a report, UNHCR Global Trends 2010: 60 Years and Still Counting. According to the report, there are no 43.7million refugees and internally displaced persons. That’s the highest number in 15 years. 27.5 million people are internally displaced persons, the highest number in a decade. Globally, fewer than 200,000 refugees voluntarily returned home, the lowest number in twenty years.

Children make up more than 50% of the global displaced population. 55% of stateless people are children. 55% of returnees are children. 48% of Internally Displaced Persons are children. 44% of refugees are children. 31% of asylum seekers are children.  55% of “others of concern” are children. If children are the future, what is the present?

Women and girls? “Women and girls represented, on average, 49 per cent of persons of concern to UNHCR. They constituted 47 per cent of refugees, and half of all IDPs and returnees (former refugees).”

On July 28, 1951, the United Nations adopted the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In 2000, the United Nations adopted June 20 as World Refugee Day. It chose that day so as to coincide with Africa Refugee Day, June 20. Starting in 2001, June 20 has been `celebrated’ as World Refugee Day.

From 2001 to 2011, ten years is too many. From 1951 to 2011, sixty years is too many too many. Last week, in a nationally broadcast public forum, Dan Pfeiffer, White House Director of Communications, was asked, directly and repeatedly, “Is there a war on women?” He equivocated and obfuscated and generally avoided the question. The question can’t be avoided. Is there a war on women? Yes, there is a war on women. Part of that war is the production of huge populations of refugee and internally displaced women and girls. Stakeholders must be called to account. When asked the question, answer directly. Yes, there is a war on women. Yes, sixty years is too many too many. But hey … who’s counting?

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)

Women haunt the War on Drugs

Yesterday, June 17, 2011, Dan Pfeiffer, White House Director of Communications, was asked, directly and repeatedly, “Is there a war on women?”

Of course, he did not answer, but his non-answer is all the answer one needs.

Especially when one considers that yesterday, June 17, 2011, marked the fortieth anniversary of the War on Drugs. But that was yesterday.

Today is June 18, 2011, and so begins the forty-first year of the campaign against women, called the War on Drugs. As part of the forty years of the war on drugs, women have become the fastest growing prison population, nationally, globally, and probably in your neighborhood. The forty-year long and ongoing `spike’ was no accident and was altogether predictable, and was predicted. There have been calls this week to end the global War on Drugs and the national War on Drugs, but few of those calls have noted that the War on Drugs has been an explicit frontline in the war on women.

The mass incarceration that is the War on Drugs, and its outsourcing and privatization, are one part of the larger War on Women. Women of color suffer higher rates of incarceration, for often minor offenses. All women suffer lack of women’s health services in prison. Women in some states are still being shackled in childbirth. Women are dying of thoroughly treatable illnesses. More than half of female inmates report having been sexually or physically abused prior to imprisonment. The vast majority of women prisoners are living with mental illnesses, and there’s no one to care for them. Women suffer isolation from family and community more often than men. The post prison conditionalities practically assure women will return to prison.

The War on Drugs has targeted women, and women have driven the campaigns against the War on Drugs and the larger War on Women.

But, as the soldiers sing at the very end of Bertolt Brecht’s play, Mother Courage and Her Children: A Chronicle of the Thirty Years’ War, thirty years of war in never enough:

“The war moves on but will not quit.
And though it last three generations,
We shall get nothing out of it.
Starvation, filth and cold enslave us.
The army robs us of our pay.
But God may come down and save us:
His holy war won’t end today.”

Today, June 18, 2011, by Brecht’s generational calculation, the fifth generation of the War on Drugs front in the War on Women moves forward and moves deeper inward. Is there a War on Women? Yes, yes there is.

 

(Photo Credit: Getty Images) (Art Credit: Melanie Cervantes)