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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.
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.
Z Magazine Archive
CUBAN 5 - From May 30 to June 5, supporters of the Cuban 5 will gather in Washington DC to raise awareness about the case and to demand a humanitarian solution that will allow the return of these men to their homeland.
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BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike- A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides, music, exhibitors, and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; mailbikesnotbombs.org; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in NYC.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduate Center, Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
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ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16 in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; convention @adc. org http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5-day Seminar at the University of Havana, plus visits to a co-op and educational and medical institutions.
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NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
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MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
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GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process in the U.S.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from across the continent to learn skills and build one big union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13, the 11th Annual Peacestock will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers, and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
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LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations, and panel discussions.
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ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference.
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