My mum is a housewife. Ama de casa in Spanish, something that could be literally translated as the “mistress of the house”. Once, at school, when filling in a form in which I had to write my parents’ ‘professions’, I asked her what I should write. Without giving it much thought, she told me to write “sus labores”, meaning something like “dedicated to her labours” or “her duties”. That is, to housework.
I didn’t think much about that subtle moment when I went to university, or when I became an architect. Or even when I started to do research. One day, when I was working on my PhD, I learnt about the work of Silvia Federici. Intrigued, I read her book Caliban and the Witch.
“Women […] signifies not just a hidden history that needs to be made visible; but a particular form of exploitation and, therefore, a unique perspective from which to reconsider the history of capitalist relations.” (2004:13)
Federici blew my mind. Throughout history, women’s unpaid work has been one of the pillars of capital accumulation, she argues. This was possible by repressing women’s resistances, including through witch hunts.
Since I read Caliban and the Witch, that moment when I wrote “sus labores” keeps haunting me. My mum probably still thinks that her work is ‘unimportant’, incomparable to any remunerated labour. As many Spanish women from her generation, her labour rights will never be granted, acknowledged, or recognized. Yet, she did work. She worked full-time and did over-time too. And she still does, even if ‘retired’. She is part of the invisible workforce of (mainly) women in this world that continue to dedicate their lives to care work every day. Whether paid, unpaid or underpaid. Whether in private or public spaces. Every single day. Even in times of war. Dedicating their lives to keeping people alive.