This Week in the War on Women is a series that appears on Saturdays at 5 PM Pacific time.Last week I attended Netroots Nation in Detroit, and today I want to share some thoughts about it. If nothing else, this series was born after a panel at NN last year. Tara and I went up front afterwards to talk to Kaili Joy Grey, mother of the original This Week in the War on Women. Actually, Tara and Kaili were talking and I was listening and waiting my turn. When the conversation moved to the series, and Tara said something about being overwhelmed at the thought of taking it on, I said it could be a group so different writers could spread the angst around a bit. (I was never good at waiting my turn.)
I thought of that moment the first time I went up after a panel, and it seemed such a serendipitous chance, but I'm so pleased that it happened. Anyway, here's a few bits from the week before I move to discuss NN 14.
First, a piece of really good news - Meriam Ibrihim managed finally to leave Sudan with her family.
There are two interesting posts from Danielle this week on feminist issues:
Malala Yousafzai went to Nigeria to meet with the families of the missing girls, and with five of the girls who escaped. It's been 90 days without any apparent action on the part of the government.
This article from The Nation analyzes the Harris v. Quinn decision I discuss below. It's well worth reading.
This year, there was a lot about women's issues. Many of the keynote speakers were women, both celebrity speakers and those from the front lines. Many of the panels were on women's issues, and recent Supreme Court decisions were discussed a good deal. But I went to two panels that went beyond my expectations and really helped me organize my thoughts. These were on the use of the religious exemption and on domestic workers. I want to concentrate on the second of these.
I went to the panel on domestic workers instead of one next door on Janet Yellen and one next door to that on black feminism, because it seems to me that the issue has the potential for the most radical structural changes in a society and economy based largely on the premise that "women's work" is to be provided without pay, and is thus devalued in the marketplace when it is offered there.
I wondered whether the panelists would address this issue, and was pleased that the movement for domestic workers' rights was seen as crucial, as the place where women's rights, labor rights, immigration, human trafficking, racism, and I later added disability rights, all intersect. Caretaking is specifically excluded from previous wage/hour protection legislation, because women get intrinsic satisfaction from taking care of others, we are just made that way, I guess.
The third of the anti-women Supreme Court rulings released in the last few days of the term, Harris v. Quinn, once again creates a separate category for home care workers, who are largely women, and those are largely women of color. State workers pay representation fees to unions, since they benefit from negotiated contracts. None of their money can go for other costs like political contributions. Home care workers were included under this provision since they are generally paid by the state through Medicaid. This decision created a category of partial state workers, since after all, working in people's homes is not like working for the state, I mean, really! People who work in people's homes are never subject to exploitation. Didn't we free the slaves?
The five Catholic men on the Court could not bring themselves to acknowledge that women who work in other people's homes perform serious work and benefit from collective bargaining. Without these fees, unions will be weaker and could even go bankrupt, and workers once again completely isolated.
The panelists were Alicia Garza, Nenette Manalo, and Roseana Reyes, who have organized workers and provided care themselves, Lenore Palladino, who is a new mother who found herself an employer, and who has organized a group of employers and workers with branches in different cities, and Sandra Fluke, who, before and since Rush Limbaugh made her famous works in human rights law, and was actively involved in getting the Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights in California. Other states with these laws are New York, Hawaii, and Massachusetts. Worker safety issues are another major concern - Ms. Fluke got involved because of her work against human trafficking.
The panel also included Ms. Palladino's infant daughter and their nanny who smoothly shared childcare duties. And Ms. Fluke was late, depending on public transportation as, she pointed out, are many domestic workers.
These women were not only able to share their stories, but also to relate their work to the greater issues of equality by sex, race, class, immigrant status.