My Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds were a steady stream of women marching today in the Women’s March on Washington, in Boston, and in other sister marches around, not just the country, but the globe. And my heart swells with gratitude and respect for the people who are standing up, speaking up, and in some cases waking up, and sending a powerful message to Washington that women’s rights are human rights and that women will fight for what is right. And my eyes, well, they are a little damp, because I was not marching with them.
In spirit, I was with the women and men who marched. I amplified their voices on social media. I cheered them on from home. But most important, I am prepared to do the work that we will need to do in the coming months and years to realize the mission of the march: “…unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up…parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society.”
But today, I was caregiving. Today I did what so many women, and men, do – the unpaid, often invisible work, of caring for a family member. Work that is undervalued and therefore unpaid. Work that falls disproportionality to women, especially women of color, and often to immigrants. Work that when it is paid, is poorly compensated. Work that disrupts our careers and threatens our retirement. Work that impacts our economy. Work that our “health systems, under pressure to reduce costs, increasingly rely on … to manage illness at home,” as one doctor recently wrote in The New York Times.
I know I was where I needed to be today. And I’m okay with that (minus a wistful desire to be part of the crowd.) Notice, I didn’t title this post “Why I Didn’t Participate In The Women’s March.” I’m participating all right. Because 1: The work of the march will continue beyond today. We have much to do to on our feminist mission. And 2: Caregiving is a feminist issue.Caregiving is a feminist issue Click To Tweet
- There are currently 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States and the majority are women. But there are few support programs in place to aid these family caregivers. This must change.
- Often, a woman’s time out of the office during her childbearing years is compounded by the time she takes off later to care for her parents. This must change.
- According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, 70% of caregivers experience work-related difficulties as a result of their caregiving roles, with female caregivers especially at risk of financial hardship. They often suffer loss of wages and risk losing job-related benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings, and Social Security, to the tune of $324,000. This must change.
- One in three American women are living in poverty or on the brink. This must change.
- Family caregivers in the U.S. provide an estimated 37 billion hours of “free” care—worth $470 billion—to parents, partners, and other adults. And the AARP predicts there will be a shortage of caregivers by 2020. This must change.
So you didn’t see me on the National Mall or the Boston Common today but know this: I will be working for policies like family leave, paid sick days, affordable child care AND eldercare, career reentry assistance, fair pay, protecting Medicare and Social Security, a healthcare system that serves citizens, respite support, and improving hospital discharge processes. Addressing these issues helps, not just women, not just caregivers, but everyone. Because to care is to be human. To care is to support our economy. To care is to engage in politics. To care is to love.