Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

[Race, Class, Women & the State: The Case of Domestic Labour]

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

[Race, Class, Women & the State: The Case of Domestic Labour]

Article excerpt

What can yet another book on foreign domestic women workers add to the many excellent publications which exist on this subject?(f.1) It is a question that Tanya Schecter asks before the reader can. Her concern is that the literature on the subject lacks a "comprehensive and integrated analysis of how the State's immigration policy has served to reinforce divisions among women, how some Canadian women have had a hand in influencing this policy, and how this policy has influenced the Canadian women's movement as a whole" (pp. 2-3). Race, Class, Women and the State is an attempt to fill this gap, with the focus being Black and Filipina domestic women workers.

Schecter argues that since the late-nineteenth century, Canadian women have at various historical junctures played a role in influencing Canada's immigration policy on domestic labour. In the first wave of the women's movement (from the late-nineteenth century to 1929), she writes, white middle class women's reform activities -- and the basis upon which they demanded rights -- reinforced the State's perception that domestic labour was women's work, that it should be their unpaid contribution to society, and that non-white women were less desirable citizens than others (p. 3). In the second wave (from the 1960s to the present), these concepts "were not fundamentally challenged" as the institutionalized women's movement "advocated increasing women's participation in the public sphere as the sole route to gender equality," thus legitimizing the idea that "work in the public sphere is more valuable than that performed in the private sphere" (p. 3). It was only in the late 1980s and early 1990s that the institutionalized women's movement addressed the racist underpinnings of immigration policies regarding domestic workers and the traditional perception that domestic labour is not real work (p. 4).

Two points that the author emphasizes are: (1) how fundamentally racist Canadian immigration policy is; and (2) how much the issues taken up by the women's movement in Canada are those of white middle-class women. First, I'll look at the immigration issues which the author discusses. Schecter posits that ever since Confederation, Canada's admission and citizenship policies have been shaped by two main principles -- the wish to populate Canada with British people, and the demands of the economy and the labour market. Only when the Canadian economy was in dire need of certain kinds of workers, domestic workers for example, did the State allow immigration from countries other than Britain. Schecter makes it clear that race has played a significant role in the history of domestic workers entering Canada. When domestic workers were white, they were looked upon as women who would eventually blend in and become an integral part of the nation state. But as the domestic migrants started coming from the Third World, notably the Caribbean and the Philippines, two policies became noticeable: Canada's admission policies became more complex, eventually denying foreign domestic workers (i.e., non-white women) citizenship rights. At the same time, domestic workers' work lives became marked by extremely low wages, social isolation, sexual abuse, racism, and no labour or mobility rights.

The second issue that Schecter looks at in detail is how white middle-class women colluded with the State. She emphasizes that although nonwhite women and working-class women formed part of the women's movement, they occupied a peripheral position, and that it was mainly white middle-class women who formed the basis of "institutionalized feminism" (p. 9), and who influenced State policy concerning women. These women formed the core of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), which policy makers considered "the voice of Canadian women" (p. 9). Schecter argues that at the time NAC had a liberal feminist perspective of equality of opportunity, and hence did not challenge what she terms the "public-private divide" of Canada's social organization. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.