Care work: a feminist system change

For International Women Rights Day here is an offer to radically rethink who and what we value

By Ekinklik –, CC BY-SA 3.0,

IWD is always an opportunity to take stock of how far we got with gender equality. Many would think that it has been achieved in Europe: women can vote, work and take control of their bodies in most European countries. That statement can easily be contested, even if it might be true about the majority of white women in Europe, because women of color and trans women clearly have a different level of freedom and equality even in Europe. With the recognition that there is a lot to do to achieve intersectional justice, this post is taking a different direction, and wants to look at the fundamentals of our system, from a feminist point of view. What would it mean for our daily lives and our social and economic network in Europe, if we, for once took feminism seriously? 

The pandemic in the context of the climate crisis had reminded us of an important yet obvious statement from the eco feminist economist  Mary Mellor:

We are creatures in a body and our body is in the environment.

A body needs care, and the environment needs care. The word ´care ´is usually associated with women´s activities and care work is usually performed by women. ( in Europe, increasingly women with migrant backgrounds.) Mellor develops the concept of body work which is effectively essential work,  caring for others, and the availability and responsibility that it entails, including its unpredictability and little monetary value. Then there is of course, economic activity, that ´drives´ the economy and brings profit and is usually associated with men.  She further states that the economy as understood in a capitalist system is carved out of human existence in nature. 

If the multi layered crisis we live in is stemming from this divide, then it is a crisis of care. If anyone is still in doubt about that, please read the post-Covid analysis from Petra de Sutter, deputy prime minister of Belgium.  We undervalue, dismiss and exploit nature and those who care for us and we see where this false and unjust approach leads us to.  If we were serious about getting out of this crisis, then we would  overhaul our current economic and social model and reorganize it with a feminist approach to centre around body work, instead of economic work. An inspiring piece of work is offering a bold vision on that by the Care Collective: A perfect offering for IWD in 2021, a radical rethink to rebuild Europe, from ground zero to resilience. 

The Care Manifesto, published in 2020, starts by saying that we have to  recognize our mutual interdependence on nature and on each other. Let’s not fool ourselves, this is the exact opposite of neoliberalism, which is built on the concept of hyper individualism, and commodified self care. The concept of `Universal care` starts where Mellor left it: the recognition of the fragility, frailty and challenging nature of body work, all the aspects of humans and nature that disgust us, and how much these relationships and the act of care creates and reinforced inequalities. 

Once the complex, intersectional and radical notion of Promiscuous Care, is established:

If care is to become a basis for a better society and world, we need to change our contemporary hierarchies of care in the direction of radical egalitarianism.

All forms of care between all categories of human and non human should be valued, recognized and resourced equally, according to their need for ongoing sustainability. This is what we call the ethics of promiscuous care.

The Manifesto explores in what way communities, societies, politics and the economy could invest in supporting that act of care. The solutions start by redefining the family and kinships, and moves on to the micro community, before it discusses the role of the state, politics and the economy. A serious restrictions on the power and reach of capitalist markets, and the utmost priority of the forces of care and compassion over the forces of the market are necessary. Policy frameworks build on best practices and progress achieved so far, but filters everything through the concept of promiscuous care. Here is an example: 

The Manifesto also  offers a new approach to global collaboration, built on mutual interdependence, sharing resources, while embracing a democratic cosmopolitanism. It`s concrete manifestation could be a collective role out of a Global Green Deal, one version of this can be read here.  And the circle closes: we started by rethinking kinships and families and we end with applying that to the global community of humans to create the right platform for a caring world order. 

How does this truly inspiring and idealist manifesto relate to the quest of searching for a way out in Europe? A recovery that aims to create a truly feminist, caring Europe, would lead by example, and would have a huge impact on other parts of the world, which are currently suffocating under the forces of capitalist market logic.  Going back to Mellor, a concrete task emerges for the EU right now: 

What the Green New Deal has to do is integrate work and life, taking into account both ecological time ( the time it takes of nature to regenerate) and biological time ( the birth-death life cycle of the body) If the Green New Deal doesn’t integrate work and life in this very concrete way, I don’t think it will overcome the care question. 

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s