Overlooking women’s care work
In his budget speech Minister Pravin Gordhan stated that the consolidated resources available to the state over the medium-term expenditure framework (MTEF) period amounted to some R4.5 trillion. He spoke too of how business, civil society and organised labour have to be partners in building cohesive communities and promoting social solidarity. Both statements illustrate just how invisible the care economy is to government – the taken-for-granted, unpaid and underpaid work largely performed by women that goes into caring for children, sick and elderly relatives, people living with AIDS, the unhappy and abandoned and any others who don’t fit into our vision of a healthy, productive and trouble-free society.
In relation to victims of violence, government rewards some of that work through the Victim Empowerment Programme (VEP) and financial awards to NGOs. The latter policy is designed to encourage self-exploitation because no NGO ever receives a grant equal to the full value of the service being provided. So in the case of domestic violence shelters in Gauteng, Tshwaranang’s ongoing research finds that they receive no more than 75 percent of what is needed and must scratch for the remaining 25 percent elsewhere. This is seldom obtained because most donors argue that service provision is a government responsibility that they will not subsidise. As a consequence, salaries are low, staff exhaustion and turnover high and the quality of services to abused women compromised.
Undervaluing women’s care work also restricts women’s involvement in the political sphere. When so much time is taken up in trying to meet what is a bottomless need, little space, time or energy can be found to advocate on abused women’s behalf – let alone on behalf of an exploited sector.
So the Minister underestimates the resources available to government in terms of women’s hidden, service labour and neglects to recognise just how much civil society is already contributing to community development.
It must be recognised that the budget does allocate some funds towards care work, specifically early childhood development initiatives and other childcare and protection programme. This expenditure is justified on the basis that such programmes have strong community-based employment benefits. This may be true but it is no guarantee that this work will be remunerated to its full value. It certainly also does not go far enough in recognising the full spectrum of care work being carried out by the non-profit sector.
In conclusion, while the budget rightly recognises the need to improve conditions of service for those working in police stations and courts and increases expenditure on the criminal justice accordingly, there needs to be a similar commitment in future to improving the conditions of those labouring in the caring services.
Tshwaranang Legal Advocacy Centre.