Care Paid and Unpaid: Social, Economic and Human Rights Concerns

by Dr Joan

Attempts to achieve gender equity have reached a new high water mark and the recognition and redistribution of care, both paid and unpaid, stands at the centre of this arena. The Australian secretariat – Economic Security 4 Women – have produced landmark reports, both scoping and quantifying the value of the ‘care economy’ and, more recently, Professor Marilyn Waring addressed the topic of care and dignity in the annual Pamela Denoon Lecture Series. Here below are key points from these papers and central messages made by Waring.

Two significant Australian reports on the care economy have been produced over recent years: Scoping the Australian Care Economy A Gender Perspective (2010) and Counting on Care Work in Australia (2012). These projects are concerned with the lifelong economic well-being of women. Though they are particular to Australia and reference local government policies, programs and strategies, they draw from an international body of research and deal with common concerns.

The first report references the importance of data collection and brings attention to landmark work in the Massachusetts case study that used United States Census and Time Use data to measure both paid and unpaid care work [1]. The author Valerie Adams notes tensions between unpaid work, voluntary work and paid work. She draws attention to the ‘relational’ nature of care work, and references the concept of ‘provisioning’ for human need. The report used the notion of ‘care work’ to depict both the paid and unpaid sectors. Adams considers definitions and current issues in the Australian care economy. She surveys relevant government policy and makes numerous recommendations for further research and data collection.

Counting on Care Work in Australia (2012) further develops this arena by quantifying the value of the paid and unpaid care sectors to the Australian economy. In 2009-10 twenty per cent of all paid employment in Australia was in the care sector. Care workers receive 96 cents for every dollar earned by the average Australian worker, and female workers earn on average 84 cents in the dollar to male care workers. The report valued the unpaid care sector at $650 billion with sixty per cent of this contribution being made by women aged 25 to 64. The report furthermore outlined and quantified government investment in the care sector. The authors make recommendations for further work in light of: demographic change; inter-generational concerns; and the continuing economic and life course implications for women.

Marilyn Waring prefaced her recent lecture Care and Dignity: Major challenges to economics and human rights (transcript and video available online: with the proposition that over millennia care has been the primary responsibility of women. She has changed her emphasis since the publication of Counting for Nothing: What men value and what women are worth (1988) [2] and now frames these concerns within a Human Rights perspective.

Waring raised problems for the use of ‘care’ as an analytical category, arguing that most often carers are responsible for a myriad of associated tasks that could be lost through a continuing association with unpaid work. Nevertheless, drawing from studies from British Colombia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United Kingdom, she sets out a strident case whereby the human rights of care givers are being flouted. She and others set up a questionnaire for a Commonwealth report drawing from Amartya Sen’s capability approach to human rights which references choice, rest, health, meals, work and political involvement, and found multiple breeches.

With governments around the world withdrawing from social and welfare programs these kind of arguments are critical if we aren’t going to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Care, both paid and unpaid, are clearly significant to the health and well-being of the community, but further to this gender equality will remain allusive if we don’t see transformational change. Unfortunately the issues are complex and though there is increasing reference to the work of unpaid care in terms of achieving gender equity, there is a need to bolster and popularize the debates.


[1] Albelda, R., Duffy, M., Folbre, N. (2009), Counting on Care Work: Human Infrastructure in Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, MA, Massachusetts

[2] In a recent anthology, Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics, edited by Margunn Bjornholt and Ailsa McKay, 31 authors from nine countries outline the wide ranging impact and resonance of Professor Waring’s work as well as the current frontiers of feminist economics.



Crisis Compounded? Legal Aid, Feminist Advocacy, and the Budget Cuts in British Columbia, Canada

By Agnieszka Doll

Since 2002, the successive governments of the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC) have enacted large-scale budget cuts to state-funded legal aid. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives researchers reported that in 2002 provincial funding for legal aid has been cut by 40 percent (Brewin & Stephens, 2004; Govender & Milne, April 9, 2013) The most severe reductions were implemented in areas of family law, poverty law, and immigration legal aid. In fact, by the 2010 the legal aid representation in poverty and immigration cases was completely eliminated, while in family law, such representation has been limited to high risk cases (Brewin & Govender, 2010; Brewin & Stephens, 2004). In addition to difficulties in receiving legal representation, access to legal information has been also limited by changing eligibility threshold, substituting direct contact with lawyers with online and telephone service, and reducing the number of legal clinics. While legal aid in BC was considered insufficient even before the reductions, the cuts further deepened the crisis by limiting access to justice for the most marginalized populations (Morrow, Hankivsky, & Varcoe, 2004).

Feminist scholars (Morrow et al., 2004) have specifically argued that the cuts have a clear gender dimension. Firstly, prevalence of poverty among women, including those who experience intimate violence, renders women particularly disadvantaged by legal aid cuts as they often rely on state-resources for their access to justice (Sarophim, 2010). Secondly, the implemented cuts predominately targeted services related to family, civil or poverty law, which women tend to use more often that, for instance, services related to criminal law that received no similar cuts and that tend to be more frequently utilized by men. Third, concurrent implementation of changes limiting state funding for women’s organizations and subjecting funding to competitive distribution model, shattered existing infrastructure of research and advocacy-based organizations that are often unable to compete with for-profit organizations for service provision (Knight & Rodgers, 2012).

In the midst of those changes, I conducted (between 2008-2009) a qualitative study in one B.C women’s organization through which I explored how the organization’s staff experience delivering law-related services to women or helping these women access justice in the context of the budget cuts. I was also interested in learning about the extent to which existing legal services meet specific needs of immigrant women who experience intimate violence.

My interviews with the organization’s frontline staff and its administrators, as well as a focus group and hours of observations revealed three major findings regarding the consequences of government cuts on service offered by the organization:

1)      The organization went through severe employment shifts. For example, at the time of my research, the Victim Assistance Program – designed to assist women who experience abuse in navigating their criminal cases through the criminal justice system – lost all of its previous employees and was run by a new staff. Such shifts in the staff composition complicate the organization’s court presence; the previously established relations with the court personnel often need to be rebuilt, which takes significant amount of time and effort. Thus, the cuts contributed to shattering the organization’s credibility as legal advocates by affecting its ability to remain visible to justice and police administration.

2)      The organization became dependent on volunteer work. For example, the women’s center, which is often the first contact point for women seeking legal services, was forced to substitute the loss of three fourth of its professional staff with work of volunteers. This restructuring has consequences on the quality of information received by women who come for legal guidance. Since volunteers provide their help occasionally, their skills are mostly used to support the basic functioning of the center not to provide information about legal aid service to women in need. Often, they do not have the related professional training.

3)      Given changes in priority areas funded by the government, the organization adjusted their own services accordingly. Previous focus on feminist political awareness raising about the nature of gender inequalities or feminist advocacy gave way to emphasis on short-term relief services provided to the victims of gender violence. As organizations became forced to compete with each other for resources, they started to internalize the idea of self-sufficiency as their key for survival. Thus, instead of sharing resources such as translation services, etc. with other organizations, applying for own funding came to be regarded as a strategy of ensuing inflow of additional money to the organization.

One important implication of my study I would like to highlight is the impact of budget cuts on feminist organizations’ potential to pursue advocacy for women in the courts, in the police, and in other law enforcing institutions. While the budget cuts to legal services evidently degenerated the position of women experiencing violence who need to represent themselves in courts and often surround their rights, truly successful legal representation amounts to more then just having a lawyer. It would not be novel to say that the gender stereotypes still prevail in the criminal justice system; the domestic violence cases are considered of a lower importance to other criminal cases, and the knowledge of intimate violence by court, police authorities, but also by lawyers is often not sufficient. Thus, survivors-centered advocacy shall be considered as complementary to prosecution or to other legal procedures resulting from or linked to gender violence so the needs of women are addressed by judicial decisions (Nichols, 2013). I would like to also suggest that individual-level advocacy pursued on the ground by feminist advocates is instrumental for fair and equal access to justice for women, similar, as it is to the needs-based access to legal aid. The structural –level feminist advocacy needs to continue to expose the link between the gendered socio-structural inequalities and gender violence. Those important dimensions of women’s and anti-violence movements have been seriously jeopardized by the discussed budget cuts. The quest for funding had the effect of pushing women’s organizations to depoliticize and subvert feminist ideas about the relationship between gender, violence, and structural inequalities and, instead, adopt “a Band-Aid” solution to gender violence and channel their advocacy efforts. This way, by undermining the potential for feminist advocacy through budgets cuts, the B.C. governments made effective steps towards reinforcing gender order through legal means and within legal system.


Brewin, A., & Govender, K. (2010). Rights-Based Legal Aid: Rebuilding BC’s Broken System. Retrieved from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website: Office/2010/11/CCPA_Legal_Aid_web.pdf

Brewin, A., & Stephens, L. (2004). Legal Aid Denied: Women and the Cuts to Legal Services in B.C. BC Office: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and West Coast LEAF.

Govender, K., & Milne, K. (April 9, 2013). BC’s Publicly Funded Legal Aid is in Crisis. Retrieved from Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website:

Knight, M., & Rodgers, K. (2012). “The Government Is Operationalizing Neo-liberalism”: Women’s Organizations, Status of Women Canada, and the Struggle for Progressive Social Change in Canada. NORA – Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, 20(4), 266-282. doi: 10.1080/08038740.2012.747786

Morrow, M., Hankivsky, O., & Varcoe, C. (2004). Women and Violence: The Effects of Dismantling the Welfare State. Critical Social Policy, 24(3), 358-384. doi: 10.1177/0261018304044364

Nichols, A. J. (2013). Meaning-Making and Domestic Violence Victim Advocacy: An Examination of Feminist Identities, Ideologies, and Practices. Feminist Criminology, 8(3), 177-201. doi: 10.1177/1557085113482727

Sarophim, J. (2010). Access Barred: The Effects of the Cuts and Restructuring of Legal Aid in B.C. on Women Attempting to Navigate the Provincial Family Court System. Canadian Journal of Family Law, 26(2), 451-472.

Paths to social caring: researchers consider their journeys through the ‘mantra’ ‘race’, class and gender.

By Jenny Baker, Margaret Allen, and Maureen Dyer

Activist Intellectual Cluster Group of the Fay Gale Centre

The three of us have been interviewing ourselves, following bell hooks’ example, in order to reflect and consider  the circumstances and social connections that lead to our own social activism, defined here as a form of social caring.

 bell hooks/Gloria Watkins

‘GW: Why remember the pain, that’s how you began?

bh: Because I am sometimes awed, as in finding something terrifying, when I see how many of the people who are writing about domination and oppression are distanced from the pain, the woundedness, the ugliness. That its so much of the time just a subject – a “discourse”. (hooks 1990:215)

Margaret Allen

I grew up in a deeply gender segregated world. But as a white girl in a fairly comfortable family, mine is not a story of personal pain, but rather largely one of learning of the other’s pain and injustice. I was the first from my family to go to University. The Vietnam War was a radicalising experience. I learnt of US imperialism and the military/industrial complex.  Involved with Aboriginal families through the Methodist Mission, I learned about systemic racism. I was active in the academics’ union 1982-1994, working to control casualisation.

The women’s movement changed my life, giving me a political frame for understanding myself and society in general. As Judith Newton wrote,

‘ “The scales fell from my eyes.” … it felt like a moment of empowerment, not of impotence. Dominant and totalising theories were not objectively true; they were informed by male bias. Our identities had been culturally constructed, and we were not alone.’ (Newton 1988:93)

Being part of a cohort of like-minded women made it easy to explore new ideas and to move forward together. My work in introducing and growing gender studies was always a joint effort, carried on with other women.

Maureen Dyer

I grew up working class, on the largest housing commission estate in England. None of my family had been to high school and my father had little belief in girls’ education. At the 11+ examination, no-one at my primary school was completely successful.  I was interviewed, getting in by the skin of my teeth. I later learnt how culturally specific the 11+ was, and that whole forms succeeded in middle class areas. I had so internalised the dominant hegemony of class to see myself as a somewhat inferior girl who did not really fit in.

But I worked hard and with the encouragement of a sympathetic teacher, I applied and succeeded in getting into university. Again I felt completely out of place; especially in the Residence Hall. There were very few working class girls, and none with a cockney accent. The Warden asked if I felt I was in the right place for someone like me.

Becoming an activist involves an awareness and experience of discrimination, and understanding the systematic exercise of power. Through postgraduate studies, I became conscious of the class discrimination I had suffered. My light bulb moments came from reading Sennett and Cobb’s work on class  (Sennet and Cobb 1972) and through the Women’s Movement of the 70s when I put this  together with gender discrimination. Since then I have worked to end such patronising attitudes to working class children.

Jenny Baker

From my earliest memories my family were in a state of disintegration coping with events in their lives: my Mirning Aboriginal mother in her late 30s suddenly with two baby daughters 11 months apart coming ten years after four older children; the family moving to the city in the late 1940s from a farm in a remote country region into a one-room shack and a small caravan, close friends, horses and dogs left behind. These were some of ‘the straws that broke’ the spirit in our family. The death of my seventeen year old brother on a motorcycle four years after moving to the city sealed that sadness that seemed to linger in our lives. My sister and I grew up with our non-Aboriginal father and the four, and then three, older children had difficult lives working out where they should live.

Why remember the pain or is it possible to not remember the pain?  Is it the pain that leads to activism and social caring or is it education and radical analysis that enables that to happen. Unfortunately an analysis that examines the intersection of ‘race, class and gender’ is unavailable for many people trying to battle pain and dislocation in their lives as it has been for my three older siblings. Those moments when’ the scales fall from your eyes’ and you become aware of the relationship between ‘power and knowledge’ (Foucault) are radicalising and they provided me with a new understanding of ‘care’ (Narayan 1995).


People need to care in order for a process of caring to begin (Tronto 1995). It requires ongoing political struggle to keep ‘caring’ as the grounded basis for any society and not simply a discourse within caring professions. Revisiting one’s journey to social caring has involved a re-valuing of our past in the context of today, so thank you bell hooks.


Derrida, J. (1998 (1981)). Geopsychoanalysis: “… and the rest of the world”. The Psychoanalysis of Race. C. Lane. New York, Columbia University Press.

Foucault, M. (1972). The Archaeology of Knowledge. London, Tavistock.

hooks, b. (1990). An interview with bell hooks by Gloria Watkins: No not talking back, just talking to myself. Yearning: race, gender and cultural politics. b. hooks. Boston MA, South End Press.

Narayan, U. (1995). “Colonialism and its Other: Considerations on Rights and Care Discourses.” Hypatia 10(2): 133-140.

Newton, J. (1988). “History as Usual? Feminisms and the New Historicism.” Cultural Critique 9(Spring).

Sennet, R. and J. Cobb (1972). The hidden injuries of class. New York, Vintage Books.

Tronto, J. (1995). “Care as a Basis for Radical Political Judgments.” Hypatia 10(2):