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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.



Sharontina's picture

Its time!

yes its time dear, and the revolution has already begun, a global media revolution, a collective vision of womankind to bring an end to violence, abuse, war, and all that is dehumanizing women.Great that you have become a part of it. Keep sharing dear. My prayers for your grandma and mom to keep up with good health to travel more, make a successful journey of life.


Merlin Sharontina

Nelly Bassily's picture is :)

Hi Sharontina,

Thanks for your kind words and well-wishes. I can't wait for the entire world to stand behind the women that make it all happen: the mothers, the workers, the childcare givers of this world. Blessed are the women who make it all happen. They deserve recognition and respect!

Nelly Bassily
"We must become the change we want to see in the world"
(Mahatma Gandhi)

jampa's picture

Great :}}

It is a great piece, thanks for sharing what you have in your hearts. We indeed should celebrate for the changes already begun, and of course we should re-enforce our visions and missions to lead the path where we want to.
All the best,

Gabisflanis's picture

Beautiful Story

Can't help but feel very emotional of what you told in your story. Impressive the bond that unite us women, it is in our nature. Thanks for sharing.


Nelly Bassily's picture

Thanks for your kind words

Hi M.G.,
It is indeed impressive the bond that unite women. I feel I have been able to achieve great things with all the wonderful women that have been in my life and on my path. And, the World Pulse community is no exception. The simple fact that I'm putting my fingers to keyboard and writing again is an achievement on its own. :)

Nelly Bassily
"We must become the change we want to see in the world"
(Mahatma Gandhi)

Carmen's picture

I want to say Right On! to

I want to say Right On! to you Sister! Yes, this patriarchal system does not value the deepest and most important work. The work like your mother is doing in caring for your grandmother, the work mothers the world over are doing in raising the children who will inherit this planet.

I want to thank you for the work you are doing. Educating and empowering other women is how this revolution of Global Sisterhood is happening. I am honored to be in this World Pulse community with you.

My blessings to you, your mother, and your grandmother. Aho...


CeXochitl's picture

Powerful voice

I am very moved by your story. You have highlighted a segment of society that I have not really ever considered, largely because it hasn't affected me personally. Even though my mother and her sisters took care of her parents as they aged, we lived in another state and it seemed so far removed. I think your experience is something many people can relate to, and yet we don't hear about it. We should, and I think your voice may be the beginning of the revolution! Good luck!

Aurore's picture

Care & society

Dear Nelly,
Indeed, the issue of informal care as performed by women is critical. It's such a vicious circle that impacts how we educate our boys and our girls, how the job market works, how women's and men's careers develop, and how the pension system is working...

I hope with you that one day this WORK will be recognized as such!

ola.mahadi's picture

well stated

The story touches the heart and the facts behaind it tell alot of what women fceing on daily base
Thank you for giving the issue a voice
I enjoyed reading this and sure it will remain in my heart as i advocate for women empowerment.

It is never too late to try make your way to your dream and left up your expectation.
Sudanes Women Building Peace

It's not easy seeing women I love so much be so emotionally and physically drained, especially my mom, who goes through the ups and downs of caring for an elder person. It's emotionally draining and on many days, I know she may feel like the care she gives is not important work but I try to remind her as much as I can that her work is not only tremendously hard but it's crucially important. And, when I see her lovingly care for my grandma, I admire her selfless act and only hope I can one day be half as strong and giving as she is. And, that's more valuable than any dollar figure one can try to equate to a "paying job."

Nelly Bassily
"We must become the change we want to see in the world"
(Mahatma Gandhi)

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