Counting on Marilyn Waring: Valuing care, housework, subsistence production and Nature

by Margunn Bjørnholt

 In a recent blog-post Donatella Alessandrini discussed the ”Wages for housework” campaign, referring to its main activists, among them Selma James. It seems that, when struggling to solve the problem of valuation of care and subsistence work, there is much to learn by revisiting the work and good thinking of feminist pioneers decades ago. I have recently had the pleasure to revisit another pioneer, Marilyn Waring and her critique of the system of national accounts in Counting for nothing/If women counted, originally published in 1988.

With the late Professor Ailsa McKay, I have co-edited an anthology on the impact and resonance of Waring’s groundbreaking work a quarter- century later. The resulting collected volume, Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics, published by Demeter Press, Canada, March 2014, maps new advances in theories and practices in feminist economics and the valuation of women, care and nature since Marilyn Waring’s Counting for nothing. The breadth and range of topics and perspectives covered in the anthology highlights the impact and endurance of Waring’s work, in the shaping of the discipline of feminist economics and in influencing women’s lives across the globe. In the foreword to the collection Professor of economics Julie A. Nelson, University of Massachussetts, Boston, points out how Marilyn Waring’s If Women counted ”encouraged and influenced a wide range of work on ways, both numerical and otherwise, of valuing, preserving, and rewarding the work of care that sustains our lives”. At the same time, Waring’s original critique of the system of national accounts for ignoring the value of care and subsistence work is still sadly relevant. Despite the development of feminist economics as a field of academic research and activism over the past decades, economic policies are still informed by economic theory and models that ignore the value and importance of care and that of Nature. The book is a contribution to the continued struggle for valuing care as well as an attempt to bring the field forward.

The publication of the book sadly coincided with the death of my co-editor, Ailsa McKay, who passed away, far too early, at the age of 50, on 5.March. Ailsa was herself a pioneer in feminist economics. She was Professor of Economics at Glasgow Caledonian University, and a founding member of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group. She combined her role as a renown academic and a leading authority on gender budget analysis with a strong community involvement for change. She has had a lasting impact on the field of feminist economics and the struggle for valuing care.

As an irony of fate, illustrating the persistent and recurring devaluation of care and motherhood, our publisher, Demeter Press, now struggles to stay in business, after being denied a much needed and anticipated government publishing grant. The argument was that its focus on mothering and motherhood was a liability, and that it needed to broaden its focus. Demeter Press has just launched a fundraising campaign. Hopefully many will support the only publishing house dedicated to publishing on motherhood and mothering.