I am a seventeen year old high school dropout living in London. I am currently unemployed and have been since October 2005. Some might think that I’m wasting my life and that to date I have made a bit of a mess of things. However, I have not been doing nothing. Since May 2006 I’ve been a full time volunteer at the Crossroads Women’s Centre. Not only am I doing something which I find fulfilling, but it is also worthwhile. But I doubt whether a capitalist government would see it that way, since I am not earning or contributing to the economy.
I realised quite early on in life, maybe a bit too early, that in our capitalist society the reason for our existence is to work and then… we die. As a Londoner and the daughter of hard working parents I observed the gruelling rush hour commute and the stress of a Monday to Friday 9-5 job. I don’t want that for myself. I don’t want to have to make such sacrifices like missing seeing my children growing up.
Naïvely, I used to think that women had gained equality. At school, I was taught of all the achievements women had made through the women’s movement and how lucky I was to live now, rather than then. However, when I left school and explored writings outside of the curriculum, that had been handed to my teachers by the government, I realised how little the situation had changed. Women still don’t get equal pay to men. Currently women working full time are paid, on average 76.6% of men’s weekly wages (1). It is not just working class women who are being short changed, highly qualified women are also being discriminated against which is obvious by the lack of female CEOs in the FSTE 100. 60 per cent of working women work in just 10 occupations* which are often in caring or domestic services. Caring work in the home and the community is not valued – women are expected to do it as part of their nature. Consequently, the caring work, women do “on the job” counts for nothing and women are paid next to nothing.
My school pressured us to achieve the highest grades possible and conveyed a capitalist attitude that being rich and successful should be our ultimate aim and this was how we’d gain equality. We were taught that our careers came first and it was suggested if we had children we shouldn’t allow them to interfere with our career. We weren’t even allowed to contemplate the idea of being a housewife as that went against feminist ideas and was not considered useful or fulfilling.
One reason women are being discriminated against in this capitalist society is because employers see it as a lack of commitment when women have to take a break to have children. It has only recently become illegal for future employers to ask future female employees if they plan to have children. Yet without women having children, there would be no future workforce. Why should women be persecuted for this? Why isn’t it seen as a valuable contribution to society? Women only receive maternity pay for six months and after this they are expected to go back to work. However, when childcare costs on average £126 a week for one child (2) many women can’t cover the cost. Some women are able to rely on grandmothers or friends. Others are less lucky and are forced to accept substandard care and are left constantly racked with guilt and worry about their child’s safety and well-being.
Research shows women still take on the majority of housework and childcare (3). Women will often work the same hours at work as their partners but are still then expected to come home to do the cooking and cleaning. It could be said that women have been trained/ conditioned from early childhood to consider these tasks part of their “role” but if women have been ‘trained’ in this way, why can’t men be ‘trained’ too? I predict that there will be a change very soon because I don’t think women of my generation will be prepared to take on more work than their partners. The challenge for us is to resist the pressure to be like men and just not do that caring work. Also increasingly people are living by themselves for longer before moving in with their partner or getting married, so they are having to learn to look after themselves and not rely on other people.
At Crossroads, I work mainly with female asylum seekers. What has become clear to me is how hard being an asylum seeker in this country is. The government doesn’t give asylum seekers enough assistance and benefits in general but as a female asylum seeker the situation is tougher still. Many women are mothers so they can’t move from place to place and hide from immigration officers. In addition they have to find services for their children, such as healthcare. However they face terrible discrimination. 50% of the women who come to this country are rape survivors but often when they mention this in their asylum claim they are accused of lying and embellishment by Immigration Judges. Of course, it’s not just asylum seeker women who are disbelieved when it comes to rape, any woman who reports rape faces being called a liar, which is reflected in the fact that only 5.3% of reported rapes ends in a conviction.
Women have become more independent and are demanding that men change. The numbers of single mothers and divorce initiated by women has increased over the last twenty years (4). Where women are in waged work and have been able to get some financial independence they are using the power this brings to refuse to stay with men who are violent or even just lazy. Men are being forced to change.
The Global Women’s Strike, which is a network of women in over 60 countries, demanding that society invest in caring not killing, is internationally co-ordinated from the Crossroads Women’s Centre. Women in other countries are fighting for all our work and lives to be valued — and winning. In Venezuela, under the leadership of President Chavez, women are at the forefront of creating a caring economy where the money from Venezuela’s oil wealth is directed to food, literacy and health programmes. Their Constitution recognises women’s work in the home as “an economic activity that creates added value and produces social welfare and wealth” and entitles housewives to Social Security.
We may have a long way to go until we see the same changes here in the UK but the world-wide anti-war movement, spearheaded by women, is growing and governments are under pressure to change their genocidal ways. The Strike demands for a change of world priorities so that the $800bn currently spent annually on military budgets, be invested in what our communities need. Many have been repulsed at the squandering of human life on war whilst millions go hungry. Venezuela shows that a caring economy can work. People my age are becoming more aware of the world around them and that we have to preserve it and in turn preserve ourselves.
by Emily Mandlik, Volunteer at Crossroads Women’s Centre
(1) Women part-time workers receive 62% of men’s wages, Black and immigrant women can expect to receive up to 32% less than white women and women pensioners receive 53% of men’s pension income. Equal Opportunities Commission and ONS “Facts About Women & Men in Great Britain 2006.
* Statistic from the Government’s Women and Equality Unit (UK)
(3)“Study after study shows that in couples where both have waged jobs women continue to do the bulk of the housework, with little having changed from over 20 years ago.” The Independent on Sunday, 6 February 2005 reporting on three recent separate studies.
The website of Global Women Strike: www.globalwomenstrike.net