"Time off for women: Oct. 24th," the flyer being distributed by the International Wages for Housework Campaign says. It invites women to a rally and celebration honoring women on the 1st Street steps of Los Angeles City Hall at noon Thursday, urging them to "take whatever time off you can from housework, mothering, office work, nursing, factory work, sex work, farming, school work, teaching . . . and call the press and your local Congress person to tell them why."
Margaret Prescod, an organizer and spokeswoman for the campaign, is happy to tell why.
The day's activities are being organized, she said, in Los Angeles and dozens of other cities in at least 18 countries to strengthen women's demands by focusing attention on their contributions to society and by making all the paid and unpaid work they do more visible.
Women also will be pressuring their governments to implement the decision passed in July in Nairobi at the world conference marking the end of the Decade for Women to include women's paid and unpaid work in their gross national products.
Not coincidentally, Thursday is the 40th anniversary of the United Nations. It also marks the end of the U.N. Decade for Women, 1975-1985. And it marks the 10th anniversary of "Women's Day Off" in Iceland that, after two years of planning, resulted in a one-day general strike by women.
What is going on here?
It all started at the Nairobi women's conference, Prescod said. She described "Time Off for Women" one recent morning, joined by two members of the day's planning committee, Blanche Spindel of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom and Cynthia Anderson-Barker of the Steelworkers Welfare Action.
Prescod and the Wages for Housework Campaign were very much in evidence at the Nairobi conference, attracting women from around the world to their cause, running out of printed information before they could even put it on a display table.
Not only were they spreading the word among women, they were lobbying government delegations to the U.N. conference to support their demands that all women's unpaid work in the home, in reproduction, in domestic food production and in marketing and voluntary activities be measured, quantified and reflected in national accounts and gross national products.
With such International Labor Organization statistics as the fact that women do two-thirds of the world's work and receive one-tenth of the income, and that they produce at least half the food in the Third World for no wage, it was clear that this was an idea whose time had come.
The final document of the conference, the "Forward Looking Strategies," contains the language Wages for Housework was lobbying for and directs nations to take appropriate steps and start counting.
"Before Nairobi," Prescod said, "we knew we wanted to do something on the 24th, U.N. Day, maybe hold a forum. At Nairobi, we met the Iceland delegation . . . . We began thinking, 'Why not commemorate that with time off for women?' Once the word got out, women from all over wanted to do it. We announced it. The press immediately called it a strike. We don't. We call it a timeout. It's hard for women to go on a strike--there are so many jobs we do."
Once back home in Los Angeles, the campaign got busy. The planning committee has drawn women from such diverse organizations as the American Friends Service Committee, the International Migrant Women Workers, the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Women's Health Centers.
"Our organization has always worked for the full emancipation of women," Spindel said of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom's endorsement. "In fact, we found just recently that in 1919 a resolution was passed at our international meeting urging that women's work be counted."
As for the Steelworkers Welfare Action, a group that started with a large food bank that serves families, Cynthia Anderson-Barker said, "Traditionally labor has not linked up with women's issues, but they are really coming on board . . . . We lobbied against 'workfare' on behalf of women and children. (Nevertheless, it passed in California.) The link has come with Wages for Housework. Welfare is really the closest thing to wages for housework that we have, but it's seen as charity."
The Los Angeles committee enlisted the support of some key women at City Hall, namely Deputy Mayor Grace Davis, City Council President Pat Russell and Councilwoman Joy Picus. Davis obtained the City Hall steps for the rally. Russell and Picus helped draft a resolution that is being presented to the City Council by Russell and Mayor Tom Bradley, acknowledging "Oct. 24, 1985, as a day of recognition of both the waged and unwaged contributions of the women of Los Angeles to the city's economic and spiritual well-being."