Men of my baby boomer generation, particularly those on the left, have criticized feminism for lacking an economic vision, analysis and program.
The possibility that they undervalued women and women’s work totally escaped them. The unpaid and unrecognized and unending work that sustained their lives, they took for granted.
They disguised the sustenance that women provided with their own notions that human life was dependent on men’s “conquests” – and of course men were entitled to the spoils. Those of my generation too easily dismissed a feminist economics that prioritizes praxis and democratic process over central committees and think-tanks. But as feminism organizes globally against the poverty and violence facing women in this new century, men are required to pay attention.
In considerations of poverty and wealth, feminism engages not only labour rights and the indivisible Human Rights as defined by United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but also women’s natural inalienable rights – as understood when ordinary women say, “I have a right.”
Feminism rejects imperialist practices and favours indigenous wisdoms. Not only has feminism carried forward an anti-capitalist critique, but it has also added to the world’s knowledge of the true workings of economies, and has begun to demand and effect an elaboration of women’s common understanding of fairness, sharing, productivity and wealth.
In the summer of 2004, structural adjustments came to Canada. Our country, our organizations, and our livelihoods are reeling from their effects.
Around this time, a number of us activists, scholars, and writers from across the country were invited onto the Canadian Woman Studies’ editorial board for an issue focusing on women and economics. We used the opportunity to invite other women activists, who represented a broad range of backgrounds and life conditions, for a two-day gathering in a little seacoast community in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. Together we hoped to create a framework in which to discuss the magazine issue: Benefiting Women, Women’s Labour Rights. But we also hoped and planned for a wider-ranging discussion.
Each of us brought our own unique experiences, expertise, and approaches to feminist economics. I am a woman who lived a considerable amount of time in poverty and on welfare raising a child on my own. I am also a pioneer of anti-violence feminist activity. Since 1973, the year that feminists founded the first centers and shelters in Canada, I fought violence against women by helping to organize and maintain women-run transition houses, women’s centers and anti-rape centers.
I withheld agreement to join the editorial board until I knew that “welfare reform” – that is, welfare cuts – would be discussed as a women’s labour rights issue. My work and life tell me that women’s economic rights to a basic income and share of the common wealth are intricately tied to women’s ability to leave and to avoid dangerous men: bosses, husbands, sons and even dangerous strangers.
In 2004, the Canadian government’s cuts to welfare payments, the imposition of new limits for eligibility, and the threats to minimum wage and to pensions for the elderly and the disabled have enraged us. The federal government, with the support and cooperation of provincial governments, changed the national standards that had required social service delivery in all provinces to meet a national baseline. Also compromised were the cost-sharing agreements with provinces that enabled and assured income supports. What had previously been considered every citizen’s right to welfare (however inadequate already) was now totally threatened. This caused many of us to reconsider our previous demands for the reform of social programs like welfare. We adjusted those reform demands to an overall economic framework that includes a Guaranteed Livable Income — that is, a dignified, above-the poverty-level income unconditionally guaranteed to all citizens.
The result of our gathering is the Pictou Statement. Since that summer, the Statement has traveled widely and been put to many uses. In April 2005, my own organization, The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers, adopted it as the basis of the economic agenda to be advanced by our member centers.
by Lee Lakeman, Angela Miles and Linda Christiansen-Ruffman
For millennia women’s work, along with the free gifts of nature, has provided most of the true wealth of our communities. Women’s work has been central to individual and collective survival. In all our diverse communities women can be seen to work on the principle that everybody is entitled to economic and physical security and autonomy and a fair share of the common wealth.
Women in every community, context and racial group are still denied our rightful political power over the economics governing these communities and our world. To paraphrase A Women’s Creed, for thousands of years men have had power without responsibility while women have responsibility without power. This situation must change.
Feminists insist that all activities of government and business in our nation(s) and our
diverse communities should be assessed in the light of the prime value of sustaining life
and social priorities of universal entitlement, human security, autonomy and common wealth. Social priorities of universal entitlement, human security, autonomy and common wealth must become central in social life and in public policy.
We refuse to accept market measures of wealth. They make invisible the important caring work of women in every society. They ignore the well-being of people and the planet, deny the value of women’s work, and define the collective wealth of our social programs and public institutions as costs which cannot be borne. They undermine social connections and capacities (social currency).
We reject policies that sacrifice collective wealth and individual security in the interests of profit for transnational corporations.
Women in Canada expect full and generous provision for all people’s basic needs from the common wealth. Social and collective provision for sustaining life must be generous and secure in Canada and must be delivered through national mechanisms appropriately influenced and controlled by the women of our many specific communities.
We expect all people’s full and dignified participation in society including full individual and social sharing of the work and responsibility of sustaining life that has so far been gendered. Men must share equally in this work within and beyond monetary measures.
We expect our rightful share of the wealth we have created. Women’s work must be recognized and valued both within and beyond monetary measures. We expect sustained and expanding collective provision for people’s needs.
Women demand an indexed guaranteed living income for all individual residents set at a level to enable comfortable living.