Making care visible
Every day the majority of women spend time – and often very long hours – cooking, cleaning, and caring for children, the ill and the elderly. Yet this work is not captured in data, is not discussed in national debates, and is usually not considered when designing and implementing economic and social policies. It remains invisible even though care is a central human need and maintains every society. Further, when care work, including both domestic chores and caregiving activities, is carried out within one’s household it is generally unpaid.
In contrast, when it is done in other people’s households or in public and private institutions – for example in the case of domestic workers, nurses and chefs – it is paid, although the pay may be low. Some of this paid care work will be captured in national statistics, but the unpaid care work women and girls do in their homes will not. Yet turning a blind eye to unpaid care work hampers efforts to address inequality and reduce poverty in all countries.
Over an 18 month period, ActionAid worked with women from 10 rural and urban communities in Nepal, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda to track their unpaid care work. This research produced some interesting results, which you can read in our report – Making Care Visible – and by using the infographic included here.
“This [unpaid care work] is the type of work where we do not earn money but do not have free time either. Our work is not seen but we are not free as well.”– Woman in Patharkot, Nepal
For women living in poverty, their disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work can prevent them from accessing other opportunities and enjoying their rights. People living in poverty who require care, such as the ill, those with disabilities and the elderly, may also not receive quality care due to a lack of resources and time on the part of other household members. As more and more women enter the labour market they have to juggle their unpaid care work with other activities such as subsistence agriculture or small-scale trading, to earn a living for themselves and their families. Care work is often shifted to other women and girls in the household as a result and has major implications for girls’ education. Care is more difficult to do in poor communities as basic amenities are often lacking such as water and sanitation, while access to public services may be limited. Further, the income needed to purchase goods and services to undertake care work may not be available. The dual responsibilities – for both unpaid care work and earning an income – which many women must carry contribute to gender inequality. Time constraints mean women are less likely to continue their education when they are younger, to participate in political processes and contribute to local decision-making on the issues that affect them and their families, and to access full-time and decent work. There is also little time for rest given that care work must be done every day. Women’s rights to an education, political participation, decent work and leisure therefore go unfulfilled.
Governments have a significant role to play in addressing the rights violations women face. For instance, unpaid care work can be reduced or redistributed through the provision of public services that support care provision. However, change must also happen at every level, from women’s and men’s perceptions of care work and their respective responsibilities, to shifts in public spending to allocate more resources towards care services that will benefit, in particular, those living in poverty.
Photo credit: ActionAid