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Invisible Labor noticed at last
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In 1995 all member UN nations were urged to start to tally and notice the work women have traditionally done in the home, including not only domestic work but care of the young, sick, eldlerly, handicapped and dying.

This website outlines progress in that regard.


If we think back to the earliest societies, the huntergatherer male would get food and would protect the hearth while the women bore and tended the young, sick and elderly and prepared food. The two roles were both vital to each other and interdependent but as money entered the picture, it was linked to the labor of men, not care roles.

These roles at home still had to be fulfilled but were not factored in to GDP, productivity, labor force or employment statistics. In some ways this was like a court trial where the justice says to an improperly attired barrister I cant see you. Courts recognize or see only those with standing.

Similarly, economic systems did not see women at home at all, and certainly did not see their roles as relevant in an economy.

1200 Feudalism Men got power from landholding and inheritance

Women were valued only if they could produce heirs

1660 England Fathers not mothers were the legal guardians of


1776 US Adam Smith argues that labor only has value if it confers

monetary profit and any labor in the home

has no value.

1848 Russia Karl Marx argues that women only have value if

they are wageearners in industry.

1867 Canada the BNA Act forming the nation says that women

are not persons in matters of rights and privileges

1870 US – Census shows that 69% of women are homemakers

but they are not counted as an official occupation category, not

gainfully employed and their labor is not seen to produce

any visible product

1880 Canada Dominion of Canada law states that No woman or

lunatic can vote

1900 Canada Supreme Court case versus Mabel French . The court

rules that French cannot become a barrister because as a woman

she is not a person under the law

1984 Canada The Canada Labour Force Survey excludes housework

and childrearing as work

Upon marriage the woman ceased to have many of the few rights she had as a single adult. She was pressured to have no income of her own, was summarily dismissed from her paid job, and much like a slave or servant was not only assumed but forced to take on a caregiver role not because it had value but because it was her lot in life. In many nations the married woman could not have her own bank account, could not own property in her own name and was forced into financial dependency on a male earner, much like she was now his slave. If the spouse died, she did not necessarily inherit anything. She was not permitted to make a will at all or if she was, was not legally permitted to assign her assets based on her own preference.

1895 Canada The Toronto School board will not hire married

women or women over 30.

1945 Canada married women are not permitted to be

nurses or telephone operators. If they marry

they may be fired.

Observers today are aware of the dire low status of women of earlier times mostly through the small steps of legislation to give her recognition in her own right


1801 Canada for the first time women could make wills distributing

their assets as they wished

1870 Britain Married Womens Property Acts – married women

could for the first time acquire and retain assets separately from their


1872 Canada Married Womens Property Act married women for

the first time had the right to own property

1885 Canada Dominion Property Act says that only male property

owners can vote. Women could own property and had to pay property

tax but still could not vote. Eventually single female property owners

were allowed to vote but married female property owners could not.

1897 Canada Married women who did not own property

were for the first time permitted to sign contracts

1900 Canada unmarried women could vote for school trustee in

some provinces but married women still could not.

1900 Canada Married Womens Property Act is amended so that

women were now recognized as jointly responsible with men

for the support of children

1904 US Women were arrested in New York City for smoking

in public.

1911 Canada In Alberta the Dower Act for the first time legislates

that when a man dies his wife is entitled to onethird of his estate

1913 Canada Rural Municipality laws permit women to vote

but not to hold political office

1918 Canada allows all women the right to vote, except

in the province of Quebec

1920 Canada Alberta The Infants Act for the first time recognizes

the mother an father as joint guardians of children. However the

province of Saskatchewan rules that mothers are legal guardians till

the child is 14 and fathers are legal guardians thereafter.

1923 Canada The Bank Law for the fist time permits married

women to deposit as much as $2,000 in her own name at a bank.

1929 Canada Five women appeal to the Privy Council in England

which rules that women are persons and can hold public office in

the Senate

The small baby had no rights and was deemed property of the parent, to be disposed of as the parent saw fit. In earlier societies child sacrifice, child murder, abandonment of the handicapped child might be permitted for convenience and no questions need be asked.

To have a child and raise it might be useful for the household but only if that child could pull its own weight and do useful work. In societies where large families were encouraged it was usually so that males would provide more hands as hunter gatherers and so that females could help with the household duties. The benefit of having a child was deemed personal, certainly not for the community. Children were private property.
1600 England Under British common law the child was the property
of the parent who had the right to educate, chastise, instruct or employ
the child at his discretion
` 1840 Children were deemed the responsibility of each family not
of the community or society. In cases of distress or need, churches set
up orphanages and schools.

As traditional economics became more academic, implications of this invisibility of the care role created definitions of work, productivity, gross domestic product, labor force and employment that excluded the caregiver and domestic role at home.. In baseball an umpire once was berated for how he called strikes or balls and replied It aint anything till I calls it. His view of reality was the definition of reality, full stop. The tax systems of most industrialized nations similarly became the definition of reality and what happened in the home did not exist. It was not work, no money changed hands, no goods were visibly produced and the hearth role was considered not just outside the economy, but, because it did not count as labor, more akin to laziness.

The person at home doing those invisible caregiving and domestic roles, was seen then as unemployed, and not contributing to the economy. By implication then laws that ignored the role for any benefits it may produce moved past ignoring to discouraging continuing the roles. In some countries disincentives were eventually set up to urge women out of the home so they could do something deemed more useful or more briefly put, so they could work.

The laws were gender neutral. Men or women doing care roles at home, were equally urged to leave the home so they could work.

Marx and Engels argued that for full productivity of the nation, all adults should have paid employment and Russia was one of the first nations to give women paid workforce rights. It did this however as part of the philosophy of the homemaking role as being valueless.
1918 Soviet Union gives women the right to vote, maternity leave, government funded childcare, equal pay for equal work, equal education for women and
men, and permits women to hold any political office
1922 Russia Lenin says that housework is the most
unproductive work a woman can do.

The result was that those who were at home taking care of a newborn child, someone ill, handicapped, frail, elderly or dying were viewed officially as not working, and in tax systems were forced to be financially dependent on someone else. If they depended on an earner, they were seen as akin to children, without minds, without rights of property or bank accounts, without decision making, without the vote or right to sit in government and certainly as lesser citizens. The expression just a housewife was a term of derision. This trend continued in many nations for decades.

1931 China Communist government under Mao tse tung pressures
women to enter the paid labor force. Nurseries are collectivized
and women who continue to be home with small children are considered of lower social status and branded Family women

In the 1800s it was common to say that a child was a burden to society, a small adult to be pushed along as fast as possible to adultlike value by earning. Children had no value except if they could earn.

If there was no earner to depend on, the person at home tending someone needing care was particularly in distress. Left without that one link to societal participation, a male earner, the single mother was now the object of particular scorn as well as poverty. Poor houses were set up for such women and sometimes their children were taken away from them. Often though the married mother was not eligible for paid employment, her children may be so she would sometimes take them out of school so they could earn to support the family. Child labor laws were slow to adjust to this poverty

1911 US In Illinois a law was passed to give a mothers pension
to married women whose spouse was at risk of going to the poorhouse because the male spouse was unable to earn income. The program ends however during the Depression for lack of funds

The state might reluctantly pass laws to extend charity and pity to such women in severe distress, but there was a stigma to this money. The welfare or dole stigma historically extended to those unable to find paid work, carried with it already a societal impression of living off the state, laziness, lack of initiative and being a drain on society. If the woman had small children, somehow the contempt was increased as if her dirty laundry were hanging in public and some selfish guilty sexual pleasure now was fully displayed for its shamefulness. Welfare may have been designed for the wellbeing of recipients so they could fare well but a welfare mom was kept intentionally poor, as societys statement of scorn for her mistaken life choices. Some even thought helping mothers on welfare would only encourage them to have children as if to do so was a way to escape work.
1995 Canada Ontarios welfare program to help young mothers
is adjusted to require them to earn – work for welfare or
workfare. After a drop in federal funding and electoral promises
to reduce alleged abuse of welfare, benefits are slashed 21.6% to nudge mothers away from the home to do paid work .

please go to next page to learn details

-international recognition of traditional caregiving roles in the home- summary prepared by Beverley Smith
Canadian children's and women's rights activist