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Women Say Fund Caregiving Not War & Occupation

by Global Women's Strike Sunday, Mar. 16, 2008 at 7:05 AM

In Los Angeles, for the 9th Global Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day, March 8, women along with men supporters gathered at a town hall meeting entitled ‘Fund Caregiving Not War and Occupation!’ at the Southern California Library in South LA. On and around every March 8 since 2000, women in 60 countries have taken part in the Global Women’s Strike under the theme Invest in Caring not Killing. Women who are working to reclaim the money and other resources for crucial survival needs for themselves and their communities, told their stories and shared their struggles and victories.

Women Say Fund Careg...
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PICTURED: Michelle Ibanez, a young mother claiming her right to welfare and to higher education, speaking at 9th Global Women’s Strike event ‘Fund Caregiving Not War and Occupation.’ Other panelists: Susan Burton, A New Way of Life; Milady Quito, Gabriela Network; Margaret Prescod, chair, Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike; Nell Myhand who won payment for in-home caring work for her mother; Rosa Romero, Food Not Bombs and the South Central Farmers Women’s Collective

“The cost of war and occupation in Iraq is estimated at trillion, yet our basic needs are not met. Welfare for single mothers is cut as are resources for schools. Healthcare is unaffordable, and those in need of homecare and other full time care, including injured Vets, are tossed to the side with little support. The environment is devastated and racism and poverty ensures that the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world,” said Margaret Prescod of Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike and host of “Sojourner Truth” on Pacifica radio KPFK-FM who chaired the panel.

The enormous energy of the Aztec dancers Danza Cuatemothoc opened the program, followed by L@s Cafeter@s, young women from a music collective based at the Eastside Café, singing songs from Vera Cruz, Mexico. Issues covered in the introduction to the event included: the racism suffered by the people of Benton Harbor, Michigan, a city that is 94% Black and whose grassroots leader is now in jail for standing up for the grassroots; the US backed UN occupation of Haiti and the missing human rights activist Lovinsky Pierre-Antoine; the struggle against repression in Oaxaca, Mexico and the international women’s conference to be held there in March called jointly by the Committee for the Defense of the Rights of Women and GWS, as well as the continued efforts by the US to bring down the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. Global Women’s Strike demands were read by fourteen year old Aurora Hall.

Grassroots Panel

A multi-racial panel of women including a formerly incarcerated woman, a survivor of domestic violence fighting for both welfare and higher education, a daughter taking care of her elderly mother, a young woman active in the urban farms movement, and a sex workers network, shared their experience of struggle for resources for basic survival needs for themselves, their children and other loved ones and their communities. Women discussed how their struggles are inter-related and how they can support each other. Panelists highlighted how families and communities depend on women’s caregiving work for their well-being and even survival and how money and resources are systematically denied.

Susan Burton, of A New Way of Life, a community activist whose life has been devoted to assisting women who've been incarcerated, described how her own experience led her to this work. After police killed her son, she found that few resources were available to help her through the grief that she felt. She self-medicated to dull the pain and, like so many other no and low-income women landed in prison on a drug charge. She said the problem for many women in these dire situations is lack of resources and that all they encountered from those in positions of power was punishment. Her own healing began, she said, "when someone helped me."

On release, she worked several minimum wage jobs, saved every penny she could and was able to buy a small house. She opened her home to other women coming out of prison. A New Way of Life now has five houses and has helped 250 women trying to put their lives back together after being released from incarceration plus 100 children. She made it clear that she would not accept funds which had strings attached that would curb her right to speak out for what is needed. Another formerly incarcerated woman, who spoke during the speakout session of the event, described how she had just marked 30 days of having turned her life around after imprisonment, based on the help of A New Way of Life. She was thankful for the help and inspired by the event where she learned about struggles of women around the world.

Maria Ibanez told how she had married young but soon faced domestic violence. She described how women with young children were caught between a rock and a hard place: either staying in a violent family situation or leaving and going on welfare with its starvation level resources, constant state monitoring and meddling. She and another woman whom she met at a domestic violence shelter went back to their violent relationships because they did not have the resources to survive on their own with their children. Tragically her friend was killed by her violent partner. That incident propelled her to leave her violent relationship. With the help and support of the Women’s Re-entry Center at Cal Poly Pomona, the only university with a CalWorks program, she is now able to attend a four-year university.

Rosa Romero, a young woman from the South Central Farmers Women’s Collective and Food Not Bombs, said that their mission was to nourish the community. She described the importance of getting healthy food to low income communities. They figured out how to get good food that restaurants, grocery stores and bakeries normally throw away and use it to help feed low-income communities and activist events. She stressed how important it is for us to care for each other. The groups she represents made a huge, delicious, varied and healthy meal for the event from the food they had retrieved, and it was all eaten up!

A statement from US PROStitutes Collective was read as part of the panel. Having recently hosted sex worker rights’ campaigners from New Zealand and England, US PROS wrote: “Their visit has strengthened our work in San Francisco where we have been pressing for a City ordinance to prioritize protection of sex workers over prosecution and for the millions of $ spent on criminalization to go instead to resources for sex workers and our families”. They reported on how decriminalizing prostitution in New Zealand has made it safer for women to work and make it easier for sex workers to report violence against them. In England, amendments to a government bill proposing compulsory “rehabilitation” for sex workers and measures to criminalize men who buy sex, were opposed in a packed meeting in Parliament and later defeated in the House of Lords. US PROS said further: "People have concerns that the police and DA are benefiting financially from women and men being arrested and that this is an incentive to increase arrests. Women complain that: they are forced to participate in "prostitution classes" or face jail and fines; the rehabilitation is humiliating, condescending and does nothing to address the reasons they may have been forced into prostitution such as lack of housing and childcare, low wages, debt etc."

Milady Quito, an activist from Gabriela Network, which had organized an anti-war march and rally earlier in the day, described how in the Philippines, US military bases had increased poverty, which had forced many women to break from their families and work abroad. This arrangement was pleasing to the government, which benefits from the billions women send home, but the social costs are high, including because mothers are separated from children and husbands, and often families broke up.

The panel concluded with Nell Myhand, with Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike, who fought to be paid as a relative caregiver through the State of California’s In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program to care for her elderly mother who is suffering from dementia. She is a key contributor to a GWS project to get information out to the public on how to get homecare and also how relative caregivers can get paid. She spoke of a stunningly uncaring state bureaucracy that continuously gave her the runaround even as her elderly mother suffered. With support from the GWS network in the Bay Area where she is based, including persistent lobbying, pickets and appeals over several years highlighting the gap between the care her mother and other elders need and the State’s huge failure to deliver, she won payment for her hours of care for her mother and back pay. These payments are some recognition that the caregiving work women do usually for free, is productive work that deserves pay.

Speakout and Discussion

An emotional message was read from a mother who successfully fought to get her children back from the state. Deena Hardwick of San Diego, fought a battle others told her was impossible to win, but she persisted and after seven years she was reunited with her children. In her message to the town hall meeting she said: "I was told, you can't fight the system, they are too powerful, just move on with your life. Well, with a grateful heart, may I say…you can fight the system, and after a seven week trial, a jury conveyed that point to the County of Orange in the form of a .9 million dollar judgment for denying my constitutional rights.”

Sharon Lungo, an immigrant from El Salvador, made an appeal for support for the work of the GWS. She described her work with Indigenous women in Canada who challenged a lumber company engaged in illegal logging on indigenous lands that stood to leave a terrible wasteland. Two women got together to protest, and as they gathered more people joined them and their message got louder. An indifferent corporate polluter was forced to listen. She spoke about what the personal impact working with GWS has meant to her as a young activist. She stressed how the Strike works to bring women together across national boundaries and makes visible grassroots women’s struggles and victories. During the speakout, other women shared their experiences.

Global Women’s Strike demands

Payment for all caring work * Pay equity for all * Food security for all * Paid maternity leave, breastfeeding breaks & other benefits * Don’t pay ‘Third World debt’ * Accessible clean water, healthcare, housing, transport, literacy * Non-polluting energy & technology *Protection & asylum from all violence & persecution * Freedom of movement.

Event co-sponsors include Alexandria House, A New Way of Life, ANSWER-LA, Every Mother is a Working Mother Network, Eastside Café, Gabriela Network-LA, Holistic Childcare Collective, International Action Center-LA, Somos Medicina, US PROStitutes Collective. The event was coordinated by Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike and the Global Women’s Strike/LA.

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Susan Burton

by Global Women's Strike Sunday, Mar. 16, 2008 at 7:05 AM

Susan Burton...
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Nell Myhand

by Global Women's Strike Sunday, Mar. 16, 2008 at 7:05 AM

Nell Myhand...
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L@s Cafeter@s

by Global Women's Strike Sunday, Mar. 16, 2008 at 7:05 AM

L@s Cafeter@s...
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Aztec Dancers: Danza Cuatemothoc

by Global Women's Strike Sunday, Mar. 16, 2008 at 7:05 AM

Aztec Dancers:  Danz...
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