My response to IHREC’s latest campaign #CareAboutEquality

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Carers have battled for too many years for their unique rights to be addressed to have them now conflated with gender equality, equal pay, who does what level of housework in the home, or who picks up the kids from school more often, as the current IHREC campaign is doing (see recent articles and interviews). It only serves to diminish the voice of family carers, as I describe below.

As stated on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) website, “The #CareAboutEquality national campaign aims to inform public attitudes on the value of care, the gendered nature of caring, both unpaid and low-paid, and how this impacts on women’s lives in Ireland.”

This campaign stems from the 2019 The Citizens Assembly on Gender Equality https://www.citizensassembly.ie/en/previous-assemblies/2020-2021-citizens-assembly-on-gender-equality/about-the-citizens-assembly/

IHREC is a 15 member Commission appointed by President Michael D. Higgins, in 2014. They are “an independent public body that accounts to the Oireachtas, with a mandate established under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 (IHREC Act 2014).” As stated on their website, this current campaign, Care About Equality was based on input from their consultative group members, 9 women and 1 man.

Since the 2019 assembly, I have spoken out against the use of the terms “carer” and “care work” to describe parenting. I have advocated they use “Mother/Father/Parent” and “parenting” or “housework” respectively, but to no avail. On January 6th, the #CareAboutEquality campaign was launched by IHREC, still using the term “care work” to describe parenting and related work such as housework. This terminology diminishes the issues that so many of us have fought for as family carers of a disabled and/or incapacitated family member.

My primary contention with their campaign is the false equivalency between caring and parenting. Being a family carer of a disabled and/or incapacitated loved one is NOT the same thing as being a parent or parenting.

To help explain my position, I’ll describe my personal experience on it:

I was a carer (an unpaid carer) to my profoundly disabled son for nearly 18 years. He passed away 7 months ago, 5 months short of his 18th birthday. The care work I performed was nursing level care, 24/7. That care work was intensive, medically-based and required training, skill and continual learning. It also required I give up my own career. I am a lone parent. I was a lone parent carer. I was also his mother, but again, to be very clear, the work I did for nearly 18 years to keep my son alive was not remotely similar to that of being solely his mother.

I also have another son. I am his mother, his parent, his only parent, but I am not his carer. What I do is mothering or parenting or it is housework, but is not “care work”. Do I ‘care’? Of course I care! But the use of the term “care work” is not, nor should it be, used to describe the typical parenting work I do for my son or in the home.

Are those other issues addressed in the IHREC #CareAboutEquality campaign important? Absolutely! Those aren’t my grievances.

My grievance is that by using the terms “carer” and “care work” to describe typical parenting and household duties, it serves to diminish the voice and advocacy efforts of family carers. Conflating actual caring work with gender pay issues or parenting duties or the division of household work, as I believe this campaign does, muddies the waters for a carer’s unique role.

As an aside, I believe that such an important campaign would benefit from wide-reaching consultation, not just from 10 people. If advocacy bodies don’t seek input from a much larger consultation grouping, it will likely result in a problematic campaign, as I see this one to be. And, if a commission as powerful as IHREC, who again accounts directly to the Oireachtas, is to be given such media coverage and governmental policy impact, I would suggest said commission to not be comprised of 15 hand-picked members.

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