March 8 is an occasion commemorated by women’s groups around the world as a time for asserting women’s political and social rights, for reviewing the progress that women have made, and as a day for celebration. It has its roots in one of the first organized actions by working women where over 20,000 women immigrant workers and women activists sought to fight for better living and working conditions, an end to child labour and the universal right to vote in New York City on March 8, 1909. From a series of events in women’s fight for their fundamental rights in society, March 8 was declared as International Women’s Day in 1911 as a tribute to the suffrage movement above.
It is important to dedicate a day exclusively to the celebration of the world’s women because it is essential to recognize the fact that full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedom as well as attaining peace, social and economic progress require the active participation, equality and development of women. It is also important to acknowledge the contribution of women in the strengthening of international peace and security as well as the distance crossed in women’s struggle to this equality, peace and development. Today, a centralizing organizing principle of the work of progressive nations is that no enduring solution to society’s most threatening social, economic and political problems can be found without the full participation, and the full empowerment, of the world’s women.
With that, the Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) would like to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day in recognition and appreciation of the women who are the anonymous, largely unpaid or underpaid workers in the home.
There is a huge workforce world that goes largely unrecognized in society in its understanding of economically valuable work. It has become a common stereotype that it is the woman’s duty, indeed, prerogative, to be the housekeeper, child-bearer, child-raiser. The one that satisfies the nutritional needs of the home, the one that is responsible for sanitisation, the transport officer, the counselor, the Laundromat, the dispute arbitrator, the babysitter and the nurse. Indubitably, these efforts are probably performed with willingness, love and perhaps even with help, but this does not mean that they should remain under a thick layer of dusty assumptions. Put this into the consideration of the increasing number of working women and single mothers, the clocking-out does not end at 5.00 pm. Their work is continued with even more requirements of skill, self-discipline, patience, judgement and passion until the day is past.
Yet economic recognition for this vocation is sparse, if not non-existent.
Economists now agree that two thirds of all wealth lies in human beings, i.e human capital. The well being of these productive human resources depends on factors such as physical and emotional health and education. The work done in households such as domestic chores and child care are in fact goods and services that contribute towards the well being of productive workers and citizens of the future. Yet the providers this work, who are largely women, have not been acknowledged for their vital economic role. This unpaid labour in the household is not calculated within the Gross Domestic Product and is not mentioned in economic textbooks. As such, it becomes valued at zero and makes it the only work in the economy that is expected to be done without remuneration.
When you don’t value the work, you don’t value the person.
This unpaid or underpaid and even more so, undervalued work should be re-examined from a perspective separated from that of antiquated “family values” ideals in light of contemporary enlightenment. Respect to women’s work in the market should equally be extended to their work in the home. More importantly, men too should start shouldering this work. Only with recognition can equality begin, and with that, enough empowerment to be effective in solving the world’s social, economic and political problems. The United Nation’s Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, stated in the 1995 International Women’s Day that, “In the global effort for peace and enduring progress, the promotion and protection of women’s rights are central. Success in these tasks means progress for everyone: young and old, men, women and children.”
Thus, in this year’s International Women’s Day, WAO salutes these anonymous women – mothers, wives and domestic workers – in their work at home.