Caring for loved ones in a patriarchal system
A few weeks ago, after a long day of training, I was sitting with a new friend and colleague in a shisha café. As we sat in the sweet apple and apricot scented smoky café, she started asking me questions about my family. She was asking because earlier on in the day, I had a moment during a workshop we were co-facilitating on the topic of gender justice where my tears started welling up.
As we were leading a session on feminist economics, I gave an example from a very personal story. I started emphatically explaining how my mother takes care -- day-in and day-out -- of my cancer-suffering grandmother and how she is part of the underrepresented and unpaid "care economy" within our current patriarchal economic system. After all, across the world, women are often (culturally expected) to be the primary care-givers. But, the value and moral imperatives of care work are most of the time undervalued, unrecorded and invisible.
So, I started explaining about how I grew up in an all-female, immigrant Egyptian household (consisting of my grandmother, my mom and I) in Montreal, Canada. How growing up with them as my models made me the feminist I am today. I explained how seeing my grandmother suffer because she has an inoperable and incurable duodenal cancer is doubly heartbreaking. Not only is my grandmother possibly in her final months with us but my mother stopped “working” to care for her full-time.
When she sat in front of a computer all day, society called that a paying-job but now that she cleans, feeds and changes my bed-ridden, ailing grandmother, my mother's work is called 'care' and society will not financially compensate her for that! I talked about how my grandmother and my mom are the most important people in my life. I talked about how I worry about them. I talked about how, as a consequence, my life is split between two worlds. I spend half my time with my mom and grandma in one city and the other half of my time working in another city. I try to financially support my mom in any way I can but I don't have the means to do it on my own. I help out with my grandma, but I don't ever feel it's enough. And, my sharpened feminist analysis tells me this is all part of how women are socialized to feel they need to juggle everything.
Care labour is not only central to human life, it's the economic and social foundation of all economies. More and more, I am convinced that, it's not the medicine and morphine patches that are keeping my grandmother alive. Rather, it's the diligent care and daily dose of love in the form of kisses and smiles that we offer her everyday that keep her going. And, that's more valuable than anything society dictates should be remunerated work!
And, as for my vision for the future, well, I would like to see the thousands upon thousands of women who are part of these care and informal sector economies finally get support (financial and emotional) and given their due respect for the tireless work they do. I think it's time for a women-led revolution.