Please note that the shorter and Turkish translated version of this interview has been published in Feminist Politics issues 5 and 6.
Ece: In the recent past, we had the opportunity to follow the discussions around compensations paid to women for housework. Last March KEİG, one of the women’s organizations in Turkey, organized a symposium on policies concerning the reconciliation of family and work. Feminists, most of them from academia, from Spain, the UK, Sweden and France, were invited.
Gülnur: And Mexico.
Ece: They gave us explanations about various sorts of compensations like the right to early retirement, etc. Also we had the chance to follow the International Association of Feminist Economists’ annual forums. And there were many discussions around the issue. Paying women a wage or other compensations has been under discussion. So, there are many countries like Spain, France, Sweden or some northern countries where women have been paid for caring work. Even in Turkey, the government has started discussing payments for women who are doing caring work, who are looking after someone at home. It can be some older person or baby or handicapped people. Those discussions are directly related to housework done by women. First of all, we believe that your work in the International Wages for Housework Campaign and also the Global Women’s Strike have played a very important role in making women’s housework visible. Selma James: Thank you very much for saying that.
Ece: We really appreciate that.
Selma: The feminist economists you are referring to, as well as others, have never once acknowledged the work that we have done since 1972, not one. I mentioned that and I will not mention it again because I don’t even like to think this way. But it is absolutely true. Many careers have been made on our work. If they want a career, fine, that’s up to them; but at least say that it came from a struggle, that you didn’t wake up in the morning and find it on your desk. They have been outrageous; no different from men. But when the women’s movements began, it was assumed that women would be different and that the academy would express the struggle, at least acknowledge the struggle of women. Nothing; absolutely nothing on this struggle about housework and caring. I have seen people get grants of millions of dollars, not pounds because it is only in the United States, to “explore” what we have already done, without mentioning us.
Gülnur: That’s very ironical.
Selma: Marilyn Waring went further. She wrote a book If Women Counted. Our slogan was “Women count! Count women’s work!” That book then came out. And she mentioned our campaign groups and what they have done, but she didn’t mention they were part of the Campaign or anything about the Campaign. She said she discovered these groups.
Maggie Ronayne: She was outrageous.
Selma: The problem is if you say something like “Hey, wait a minute, give credit where credit is due,” Marilyn Waring may look at you and say, “but we are all feminists together, why are you complaining, so long as it is public?” But she will get the credit and take the money and hide other women’s work and struggle. So thank you for acknowledging that we have done this work.
Ece: Two years ago, as feminists in Turkey, we organized a campaign against the government’s attacks on social rights. They were changing our social security system and in this campaign, one of our demands was to have the right to get retirement earlier than men because we are doing double work.
Selma: Really? That is very exciting.
Gülnur: We also demanded compensation for women being exhausted by housework, because there is a clause which stipulates extra pay for men doing hard work.
Maggie: What a good idea. We’d like to see all of that. That’s very helpful, especially when we are discussing the constitution in Ireland, it is really helpful.
Ece: All the campaigns in the past 2 or 3 years are included in our website, but in Turkish. In the coming months, I will ask one of our friends to translate them into English.
Selma: In any case we will be in contact.
Ece: I will be very happy. In some ways we agreed with the idea of compensation for women’s housework which is invisible. But on the other hand, we believe that the “wages for housework” demand has also some negative implications, in terms of women’s liberation as our long-term target. What we want finally is to share those tasks at home equally with men. So our discussion, our questions will be situated in this perspective. I hope it will be a very productive discussion for all of us and for our struggle against patriarchy. As I have explained at the beginning, we believe that we cannot assume that housework is totally invisible, as it was 15 years ago. On the other hand, women’s oppression at home and in society continues. So the gender-based segregation at home, and at work, continues. We also witness the particular experiences in Spain and France. We see that it continues also in those countries. It doesn’t differ in countries where women are paid for housework. The oppression of women continues. How would you interpret the situation?
Selma: When we say wages for housework we don’t expect that the first pound, dollar or lira that comes to us is going to transform the situation and the society. We have a number of objectives with the perspective of wages for housework. The first, as you say, is for housework to be visible. And that has immediate implications both directly and indirectly; that is, women can say “This is what I have been doing” to their families and to their communities generally. It has been absolutely crucial to say that to defend welfare, a campaign we have just been involved in: to defend single mothers’ money which was just cut by legislation, cuts led by women who call themselves feminists. We wanted to say that this is not government charity or out of the goodness of their heart. This money was women’s by right, this was owed to us. We must have this money as an entitlement. Margaret Thatcher said she wanted to destroy the “culture of entitlement”. We want absolutely to retain and build on the culture of entitlement. And that is a very important class distinction: women are not begging for something that they would get out of others’ generosity. We are owed the money for the vital work we do.The second thing is that the money that women have been able to win is absolutely and immediately a lever of power against domination in the family, by men, parents and others. We have seen that with the single mothers in Britain. In the 1960s and 1970s, even in the 1980s, the single mothers who had money of their own – not much but some – were the backbone of every movement. Not only the women’s movement, but every movement. Because the single mother had no man to tell her what to do. And she had some time. She takes her children and she is at the meeting. And she is on the demonstration. And she is at Greenham Common women’s peace camp. It was all based on single mothers who got this money. You can’t say they were free, but they were freer. As a matter of fact, the government always tried to police the women, saying she was sleeping with a man and therefore he, not the government, should support her. And sometimes the neighbors would help the government to police single mothers, because some married women would envy the power that she had. The woman next door had no money because she was a wife. The single mother, had very little money but it was hers alone, and nobody could tell her how to spend it or where to go or what to do. That is just to emphasize how important it was for women to have some money to be financially independent of men. That doesn’t mean she was a lesbian, maybe she was, that was a possibility if she had her own money. Or she may have had a man or three men. It was up to her, because she had money of her own and this had an immediate impact. Men still don’t help. But even if they don’t help, she does not take orders from them and her sexual choices are immediately expanded. And it was very widespread – there were many single mothers. [I don’t remember the statistics but we can find it if you are interested.] The number of women who said “I am not getting married and I am having a child without living with a man” was very high. And that’s who the new legislation is attacking. And it has to be seen that when they attack women’s money, women’s financial independence, they attack women’s active role in the movement, women’s political activity, women’s sexual choices. All of this is under attack when they take that money from women.
Ece: Thank you. I agree with you that such applications really empower women. And we also have cases in Turkey like the single mothers in the UK; although we don’t have many single mothers due to different reasons… of course the economy is very important … But if I come back to my long-term perspective, we want to share the housework equally with man. In your work, I didn’t come across any measures that push men to start to do housework. On the contrary, you are asking for wages also for men and it is not clear for me why men deserve to have that wage and what is your plan regarding men starting to do this housework at home?
Selma: I don’t have a plan. But I do feel strongly that the more women are paid for housework the more men don’t despise women or “women’s work”. I am old enough to have seen the changes from when women had nothing to when women have something, and how men have changed. But we are also making another point. We used the word “housework” when we began. And we had lots of trouble describing what we meant by housework. Many people — women and men — assumed it meant sweeping the floor. It does mean that too. But fundamentally the laundry, the cooking, sweeping the floor, vacuum cleaning; all of this is part of the work of caring for the human being. And women have been doing the caring for generations, ages. And men should also do this work. Not to help, that’s not good enough. We want men to begin to think of people, of people other than themselves. Women are always worrying about others. That’s civilized. We would like men to be civilized. We are offering men not merely that they help. What caring we are doing becomes slavery to the degree that we are the only carers. Men have also to free themselves from the waged work they do in order to care, in order to be able to find out who their children are. And men are moving to that. There is a change. A lot of men now, not millions although it will be millions, want to know who their children are. They don’t want to be introduced to them when they are grown. Men are becoming interested. They feel deprived that they have to go out every morning and come back every night, and do not see their children grow up. But what we are moving towards now is the opposite; it is becoming worse, with neither women nor men having time to spend with children. But people have changed. They are on the brink, I think, of major changes where we all have to be and want to be involved in caring What we’re fighting for is sometimes frightening, you know, because there would be lots of upsets. I don’t know what form the changes will take, what we will invent to live a more caring and a more collective life, but it has got to come – for everyone. So we don’t want to say men should help. We want to say that the so-called women’s work that we have done, the caring that we have done, is absolutely fundamental to this fighting for change; it is not what is called an “optional extra”: when you buy a car, there are many things that come with it, such as the radio, the heater etc. But there are special things like fog lamps, these are called an “optional extra”. You have to pay extra for them. Caring is not an optional extra. Caring is central. Caring is the reproduction of the human race. We were talking just this morning about the concept of “periphery”. A few years ago, not many years ago, the theory of academia in relation to the Third World was that the imperial powers were the centre and the global South was the periphery. Thank you for your racism. You know, we are none of us the peripheral. There is no periphery. We are all central. And if any work is central, it is the work of women which we want acknowledged as central not only to survival but to the economy. As it is now under capitalism, the caring serves the economy rather than the economy serving the caring. Now, when you are speaking about how to define socialism, that’s central. That’s the way we define it: that caring becomes the end and aim of production rather than that people are at the disposal of production which is the end and aim. To make that transformation is really a lot of work. And when we talk about wages for caring work and we say that that money must come from the military, men look up — men hear something new and maybe also exciting. They have traditionally made up most of the military. We are saying that the work you men have done, the militarization which has been imposed on you, we are against it; we want that money for caring instead of killing. This is one of the ways in which we express a whole political perspective so that women cease to be considered the periphery, women’s caring is not the optional extra. The reproducers of the human race must have the acknowledgment that that’s what our work is – the basic work of society’s survival. And we give lots of examples about mothers with children. But that can also be deceptive. I look at the women students at the university; they are all doing this caring work for each other and for boyfriends and for their mothers and their fathers. Women’s work of caring, because it is so pervasive, can give the impression that it is natural; that it is women’s biological nature, it is so much what we do. And that, as I say, has a positive and a negative. The negative is that we are the only ones doing it. But the positive is that it is being done. We would all be in the madhouse if it wasn’t. And to the degree that women are taking jobs outside the home, children are suffering greatly because there is nobody to care for them. I don’t know how it is in Turkey. Could there be maybe grandmothers and others to take on the care of children?
Gülnur: Not as much as in the past.
Selma: Yes. In Britain, it is a big disaster.
Gülnur: We also think that unpaid domestic labor, the care work of women, is central in women’s oppression. We agree on that. But would you also concede that men as a social group are empowered by this work of women? Because, through not having to do that work they can participate in politics, they participate in trade union movements, they can develop themselves culturally and they get the better jobs and are more highly paid; and in the upper classes, they accumulate money and capital through this work of women. So they are the group that is empowered. We argue that unpaid housework done by women leads to a conflict of interest between men and women, besides helping capitalism. This unpaid work also helps capitalism. Capital benefits from it. But also men as a group benefit from this work of women. Would you agree with that?
Selma: I absolutely agree with that. Not only do men benefit from that work but they benefit from the power relation that is established when that work doesn’t have wages and they are the ones with the money, the ones with the power. That’s why the women who are sex workers are the sellers, and men the buyers. Men have the money. But, and this is the thing that we have to tell men, they also are absolutely undermined by it. They have a privilege and as a result of that they are confirmed in their slavery. This man/woman power relation is very close to the relationship of grassroots women to career women. They are empowered by the fact that we work for them for very low wages, but that means that they as women are defined by our low status. Our low position, which they confirm by employing us to clean their houses and take care of their children, drags them down. Men have been enslaved in part because they have slaves. I mentioned yesterday that when there was a campaign for family allowance in Britain in the 20s and 30s, the first men who understood how important that was, was the miners’ union. The miners said, yes, we want the women to be paid. They were first of all worried, if the women have money what that would mean for their own power; but then their working class struggle took precedence and they knew that they can have an industrial disputes and go on strike, and not worry that the children would starve because the women would have the money to feed them. It is a small example of what the relationship in the working class family is generally. I think men are quite torn about it. I think that men benefit — they can keep going because every night women have food on the table that they didn’t cook; and when they finish eating they walk away from the table and leave the dishes. And we have 7 days a week throughout the year of doing this. But the price is that they are absolutely riveted to their jobs. And they also are expected to fight the wars. That’s a terrible thing. Now women are so “liberated” that they go and fight also. Horrible.
Ece: I have two concerns regarding the issue of wages for housework. The first one is that I am very worried about women being locked up in the prison of housework by a regular payment system like wages. One of my friends, for example, she told me that if she were paid for the work she is doing at home her husband would have rights to judge the quality of her work. She would never get rid of all those silly tasks.
Selma: You think that he doesn’t do that now? Do you know men who don’t do that? There are some unique men who don’t but not many.
Ece: But she told me that she would lose all her power of complaining and blaming him. This is one of my concerns. The second one is that, in your earlier works, I think, you are mentioning that wages for housework is bad for capitalism and also bad for men as well. But in the later writings, I realized that you stopped saying this. I would like to say something else. In the economical crisis process, last June, our prime minister explained one of the economic packages against the crisis. One of the precautions was to increase the family income. So they would start to spend more in the local market and the economy would solve its problems. So the wage for housework which comes from the governmental budget would also make all the capitalist people happy. So I am a little bit concerned about these two points, if I explained well.
Selma: The first point: We haven’t changed at all about the impact on men and on capital. What we have concentrated on is the military rather than capital in general. That’s because the military has played a central role in all of capitalist development and accumulation. Martin Luther King made a speech, that was the 1960s, saying that the military is like a huge vacuum cleaner sucking all the wealth of the society, and I thought it was a very good example. But now it is much, much worse. So we have said, and we feel that very strongly, the payment for caring work must come from military budgets. When we went to Uganda for a breastfeeding conference, we saw our women’s group there. And there is a war on, and they cannot get any clean water. And it was very clear that the money for clean water is going into guns. It is so clear, everybody sees it, everybody knows it, and this is how it is in the world. I suspect it is also true in Turkey. You as the women are deprived of the very basics to be able to feed, clothe and protect your family, and you see the might of the military and that all of the wealth that has been swallowed by it.
Nina: In Uganda 75 percent of the national budget was going to the military.
Selma: And capital would not be happy for women to have money because women’s wages would go up immediately. Once women can get financial independence without taking a second job, they will demand more money to take on so much more work. /Don’t think capitalists are naïve about women, power and money. On the second question, we haven’t changed about men at all. But we would add something now. We would say even women who go out to work, the wages are so low and the work is so heavy doing the two or even three jobs, that the power relation has not shifted as a result of women having their own money. And now the women are overworked and exhausted. They don’t have any time to organise because of all the work they are doing. That is a crucial difference now from the 1960s and 70s. One of things that happened to wages is that as more women as went out to work, men’s wages went down, because the woman’s wage was taken into consideration in relation to what the man was paid. There is a lot of evidence of that. Also when a house is bought now, the bank wants to know if the woman is working as well as the man in order to pay the mortgage. Also, they discovered that when women’s wages and men’s wages are more equal, that’s often not because the women’s wages went up but because the men’s wages went down. It’s been a disaster. There are benefits too, many benefits of women going out to work in these numbers. And one of these benefits is that women now know this is not a solution to the power relations between women and men, and to poverty, and to overwork. That’s a big lesson that we all have had to learn.
Selma: You said wages for housework institutionalised the division of labor in the home. This argument has been raised many times. But this presumes that if you don’t have wages you are not institutionalized, and that is not our experience. My experience is that without financial autonomy you are institutionalised in a very old fashioned women’s pattern. That pattern has to be broken, and the power of men and the family and the whole society over you has to be broken – in every society. It looks like it is different in England from Turkey for example, but it is not. Fundamentally men have the power in the family and that has to be broken. As I say, women have gone out to work to break it, because they didn’t think that they could win money from the government. But now they are coming back and saying: look, the man’s power has not been broken as a result of our taking on more work; housework has not gone away. And to the degree that we no longer do it, the society is crazy, insane; there is nobody at home who has the time to care for the children. The women are busy making money to feed them. People in Turkey will understand what is happening in England. There is a famous chef, Jamie Oliver, who went into the schools to see what children are eating. And you know the children did not even know the names of vegetables. They had never seen them because the mothers had no time to cook and don’t know how to cook anymore. And the poor food that the children eat, they are going to be ill by the time they are 20 because of the junk they have been eating. Nobody has time to cook in the UK. The society is geared to women and men both working outside; what happens in the home is treated as irrelevant. That is the point. And the whole of human society is based in the home, where we eat, sleep, relate to those closest to us; and this is what is being neglected and dismissed. And we have really to look again at the way we live. Let us begin with what women have been doing for our survival. We are demeaned by it, impoverished by it. I think we have to take women’s work much more seriously. Not merely to make it visible but to understand that the survival of the human race has been dependent on it. And what we have found in our international network is that it is the women who are doing the work to protect the environment, and to protect the whole community from climate changes. I am sure you know about the Chipko movement, some years ago: women embraced the trees so they would not be cut down. There are all kinds of examples and all kinds of ways in which women are fighting for the environment and facing floods and draughts as a result of global warming. Completely invisible; nobody knows that women are leading on this question. They think that politicians or some NGOs or some men are doing it. No, it is grassroots women who are taking the lead.
Nina López: Housework is looked down on by everybody. Then the women feel they don’t want to do it either. Because it is treated as worthless, as if we can live without it, and that it need not be done. That is really a problem if the basic work of survival is treated as work that need not be done!
Selma: Yes, that is suicidal. And if you want to do it or at least see that it is done, you are considered a backward housewife, a fool with low consciousness. You have less of this here because we can see that when women cook, they feel that they are making a contribution that’s worth making. But in countries like Britain that have been industrialized — you know, the industrial revolution happened there first. And as a result of it, cooking and caring, are prioritised less there than in most other places. And we have now reached an extreme where industry has taken over every part of our lives and the fast foods people are eating are terribly unhealthy. That has got qualitatively worse in the past 15 years. People have ballooned in size, not only because they are eating too much, but because very little of what they eat is good for them. And if caring is not central, and it clearly is not, that’s what happens: industry takes over to “ help us” and help themselves. It becomes more important for a woman to be working at McDonald’s or any shit jobs than taking care of her children. You know, even much of nursing people is being done by machines. They often have a machine next to a patient which monitoring whether the heart’s beating, whether you are breathing, while the nurses are deskilled. The nurses are told not to waste their time talking with the patients. The caring has been removed as much as possible. People used to be trained to know that caring was central. The whole emphasis is on women going out to work. A whole generation of women has gone out to work. Somehow, we have been told, including by feminists, the only way we are going to get some rights is to be like a man. But some of us want men to be more like women, not women more like men. If middle class women want to have a kid they have a nanny, usually immigrant women, and then they see the nannies are the ones who know the kids and you don’t. Many now say publicly: “God, I hardly know my child; is that what I want?” Many have quit their jobs, or have started to work part-time, because they have decided the career, the prestige, the power, the money, are just not worth losing the relationships for.And the less caring is central, the more the industry takes charge and is completely out of control. We want to shout, “Why are you poisoning people? Why is it legal to sell food that is unhealthy?” You go to a supermarket and practically everything you buy is bad for you. How can that be? How can the society survive like that? I think the men have less awareness of that. I think we should insist that our lives must be central, at home or at work. How can they disagree? They know that they are spending their lives doing something that is not worth doing. When I was a child, I used to think that it is not good to be a man. My father had more power in the home, but he hated his job, yet he got up every morning of his life to give his whole day to it.
Gülnur: I would like to move to a slightly different area. I got the impression that you seem to dismiss “patriarchy” as a politically relevant concept…Selma: No. It’s a phrase we all used to use. We talked from the beginning of the “patriarchy of the power of the wage”. The power of men is indisputable and a target for all that we do. What we are not doing is to assume that patriarchy is different from capitalism. Capitalism is based on all the power relations among us: sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. Patriarchy is not separate and apart from the whole capitalist structure of exploitation.
Gülnur: But how about patriarchy which preceded capitalism?
Selma: We know very well the history of when matriarchy shifted to patriarchy. But when capital came, it transformed every heritage. I’ll give you one example. In the West, the Catholic Church headed the patriarchy before capitalism. It was often the State power, and it was in charge of whole countries and continents. But when capital came, capital updated the church. It became a capitalist and imperialist institution. That’s what has happened to patriarchy as well. The power of men remained, but it was a different power. And the patriarchy was based on a different class structure. I think it is very useful to compare the Catholic Church now and its policy against contraception, and the Catholic Church in the 10th century. If we are anti-capitalist, we can’t ignore it, especially in countries that are catholic, because it is integral to State power. We also know the churches have split, and we are sometimes able to use one part of the church against another. Liberation Theology has done wonderful work for the movement especially in Latin America.We must at all costs avoid considering the situation of women as separate from, rather than integral to, the way capitalism governs us. For us the hierarchy between women and men, between young and old, among the races and ethnic groups, etc., all of this is capitalism. It’s not something that capitalism has, not an optional extra in reverse; it’s what capitalism is, how it divides and rules us, how it keeps power over all of us. That is crucial for us. It is our job to ensure that we attack sexism in ways that attack capitalism, and avoid ways that can strengthen it. We want to undermine men’s power over us, not men’s power over our common enemy.
Gülnur: We, in our collective, use the concept of “patriarchal capitalism” referring to the fact that capitalism has taken over patriarchy. However there are aspects of patriarchy which precede capitalism and which conflict in certain ways with the individual autonomy capitalism needs women to have. On the one hand capitalism needs women to be independent individuals so that it can exploit their labour power fully; but on the other hand patriarchy controls women in ways that prevent them from becoming exploitable for capital. Just to give you an example: women’s immigration is not an issue in Turkey, because women don’t immigrate on their own, but only with their families. Well worldwide, women immigrate either as prostitutes or house workers. Again, various hard facts such as violence, sexual harassment, rape, cannot be explained by capitalism. Patriarchy and capitalism reproduce one another, are interrelated, but also have independent dynamics which sometimes clash with one another. There are phenomena which you cannot explain by capitalism, but should consider separately, as aspects of patriarchy, we think. I don’t know whether you want to add anything?
Selma: I think capitalism is well able to deal with contradictions among us and use them. There are all kinds of ways in which people struggle, and capital uses that struggle for its own purpose; in the same way, there are excesses of power in one sector over another and capital uses it. And sometimes different wings of capital disagree about how to control us. But they never disagree enough to forget to join against us when they need to. Birth control and abortion are a classic example. They have no problem with conflicts and contradictions. If they did, they would do something about it. If in some way it undermines them they would try at least to curb this power and curb that sector. When you make a struggle, for example against rape, there are a lot of those with power who say, rape is wrong. All of a sudden they discovered that rape is wrong. If you make a lot of trouble for them, you can get something out of them in the way of change. But they have no problem with men raping women as a form of control of women. I think to assume that men have patriarchal power that capital is undermined by, that is a mistake.
Gülnur: I would not say undermined, but that there are different dynamics.
Selma: Yes there are.
Ece: At some point yes. Maybe we should put it like this: it is not patriarchy which dominates capitalism or it’s not capitalism which reshapes patriarchy. It’s not one or another which determines. If we think that capitalism is totally black and patriarchy is totally white as a colour what we are living is not white or black totally, it is the mixture of colours.
Selma: I can’t agree. I have a very different conception of the power of the capital. The point is, they leave no stone unturned. What we have seen in the last 50 years has been that there is no corner of the society that they have not penetrated. They are very aggressive in wanting power. If men are peculiarly patriarchal in a particular country, for example, and if capital were in any way challenged rather than assisted by that, it would start to do something about it. But they are not challenged. And I think it’s very dangerous, there is not time to develop this, but I think it is very dangerous to see the opposition to women coming from a source other than capital. Of course individual men are attacking us and we oppose every time. But if you are getting to a position where you organize not against capital but against these particular men, that is a mistake. I have seen this, and it can lead you to a place that’s unexpected, and that you don’t want to get to. You can find yourself not attacking capital, and maybe even defending it, not that you intended that, not that you began there, but you can get there. I have seen this in the movement before.
Nina: Trafficking for example. Well a lot of feminists in Britain have been talking about and really enjoying the right of the government to increase the power of the police, when we know very well that the police are going to use that power on women. They have more and more repressive power, and the first victims have been women. The first ones to be deported with anti-trafficking legislation have been women, and that’s how they use the power with feminist backing, to raid premises, get the women out and deport them. It has been used as immigration control, while feminists have supported trafficking legislation. They blur the difference between the movement defending women and asking for laws to put the police in charge of defending us against trafficking! They defend us by deporting us.And what we have done is to say, there is always rape going on and you are not doing anything about it and that is what you should be doing. We’re saying that the State is responsible for allowing those men to continue to rape. But that’s how feminists have got embedded with the State. Just like what some journalists have done in relation to war, feminists have done in relation to police power and anti-trafficking legislation.
Gülnur: I completely share your concerns about the criminalisation of prostitutes. However it seems to me that at the moment the feminist movement worldwide is polarized on this issue. At one end you have those feminists who are tending towards a moralistic and authoritarian position. At the opposite pole, you have those who seem to be almost celebrating the commodification of women’s bodies under the banner of ultra-liberalism: you know, “Everything is for sale and it is your free will to sell your body.” How would you respond to that polarization? Where would you situate your views on the subject?
Nina: We have always said that we are not against prostitutes but are against prostitution. We never glorify prostitution, but we do not glorify people selling their labour power in whatever way. We don’t think that it’s worse because it’s sexual, but we don’t think it is better either. Those sex workers’ organisations still glamorizing prostitution are very annoying. Because we’re aware through campaigning for economic resources for women, that women have to go out to prostitution because they don’t have money to feed their children or because they are immigrant and do not have the right to work, a number of economic reasons… The sex workers’ organisations that glorify prostitution never mention poverty, they behave as if somehow every sex worker is having a great time, which is not true. Then when you speak to factory workers they tell you how hard it is to do their job. And especially if you criminalise the sex workers, it makes the situation worse; because they are always worried about police raids; the men take advantage – they know you cannot work legally and this puts you at a disadvantage. We have always said that criminalisation is absolutely central to why women prostitutes were so vulnerable to violence, because the men know that you have no other recourse. There are two sectors of women who are most vulnerable to violence, besides children: partners in the home and sex workers.
Ece: You have mentioned that you are also working against the privatization of water resources, and Ilısu is one of your fields of study. I have also been involved in the water commodification issue and try to study the effect on women’s inhouse labour. Would you please detail your studies about the water commodification?
Maggie: Yes, this is work I do as an academic which is oriented by my involvement in the Global Women’s Strike. Instead of taking the money from the military budget and providing these resources for women – because it’s true that women do back-breaking work to try to get clean water every day – instead of that, governments and multinationals propose to make more people all over the world pay for water. How does that help women? This is not just here in Turkey but all over the world, using gender for propaganda to impose this kind of privatization. I remember a few years ago when we were campaigning very heavily and producing reports from what Kurdish women were saying about the GAP project and the Ilısu Dam in particular, and GAP and UNDP had on their website that GAP was the big project for women’s development in Turkey. That was the propaganda to cover the fact that this development is in no way sustainable and benefits women and their children least of all. In fact it is very life threatening. As an academic I have worked to support communities opposing development projects in many different countries. And many women in the Strike’s network are involved in struggles for clean water and other essentials for survival. And in all these struggles you see “gender” being used as propaganda all the time. Yesterday at the public event I was speaking about how you also see this in the US invasion of Iraq, for example; their use of gender NGOs and feminist careerists to undermine the women’s movement and attack grassroots women trying to ensure the survival of families and communities under occupation.
November 27th, 2009 in İstanbul