Advocating for Care in the post-2015 agenda

Across all societies, women and girls bear greater responsibility for unpaid care work (defined as involving domestic tasks and direct care of people within family homes and local communities) than men. It is the socially prescribed and entrenched gender roles that denote women and girls' as primarily responsible for providing care, which occupies large amounts of their time, undermines their rights (for example, to decent work, to education, to health, to leisure), limits their opportunities and, therefore, impedes their empowerment.

Recognising the links between women and girls' unpaid care work and their economic empowerment, IDS, ActionAid International, OxfamGB, as well as a host of practitioners, researchers and activists have been working hard to make sure the development world pays attention to unpaid care work. This work has been greatly helped by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights' recent report, which positioned unpaid care work as a major human rights issue. These efforts have not been in vain, with academics, feminists and pro-feminists, international organisations, government organisations, members of trade unions and grassroots organisations all voicing their support in recognising, reducing and redistributing women's unpaid care work as essential for gender equality and the empowerment of women.

In a number of countries across the world, important policy reforms are also taking place, in which governments are providing public finance to support services to reduce and redistribute unpaid care work. Countries, such as Mexico (with its Federal Day Care Programme for Working Mothers) and Chile (with Crece Contigo, a scheme that guarantees universal access to pre-school plus free access to crèches and kindergartens for children from vulnerable families), have recently promoted the expansion of early childhood education and care (ECEC) services, motivated by the need to both provide opportunities for low-income children, and support working mothers from low-income groups.

It is also heartening to see unpaid care work is now gaining recognition as a major determinant of women and girls’ empowerment, especially with the Final Outcome Document of the Open Working Group (OWG) on Sustainable Development Goals which includes a target (target 5.4) on unpaid care work under Proposed Goal 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women’. This stand-alone goal pertaining to the recognition of unpaid care work and domestic work calls for provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection, which resonate with the key policy recommendations we at IDS put forth in order for economic empowerment to be optimised, shared across families and sustained across generations.

In making care visible, it is also important to recognise the strong links between the amount of time that women and girls spend on unpaid care work and their economic empowerment, as revealed in a recent IDS policy briefing. This briefing looks at the interactions between the market and the household and the consequences of unpaid care work on the type, location and nature of paid work that women and girls can undertake, thereby impacting their economic empowerment. One of its key recommendations when creating employment opportunities for women is to put regulations in place to ensure decent work that takes into account their unpaid care work responsibilities as per their lifecycle and family structure requirements.

With women’s rights to decent work being part of proposed Goal 8 ‘Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all’, recognising unpaid care work is also crucial. Taking care into account would help guarantee opportunities for flexible working hours, decent and fair wages, maternity benefits, improved working conditions and safe working opportunities at a range of suitable locations - ensuring that women are not concentrated in or pushed into the informal sector because of unpaid care responsibilities.

Global Care Advocacy Workshop

The current debate around the post-2015 framework is a renewed opportunity to create sustainable change for women and girls’ and their empowerment, particularly with reference to unpaid care work. Indeed, the inclusion of unpaid care work in the OWG, which was made possible through the collective efforts of women's rights organisations, activists and supportive policymakers, reveals the important role of collective action in making care visible.

As such, January 2015 will see activists, researchers and practitioners from diverse civil society organisations come together in Bangkok, Thailand for the third Global Care Advocacy Workshop. This will be a follow-up to the 2012 Bringing 'Unpaid Care' into Global Policy Spaces Workshop which began the discussion with a wide array of voices and organisations on how care can be brought onto the international development agenda and the 2013 Global Care Advocacy Workshop, which discussed an influencing strategy to put care on the global policy agenda.

Co-hosted by Asia Pacific Forum for Women Law and Development, ActionAid International, Helevtas Nepal and IDS, this workshop will bring together organisations engaging in international advocacy on care work – both paid and unpaid - from a human rights and feminist perspective to:

  • Gain a greater understanding of what national and international organisations are already doing (research, advocacy and programming) on women's work – both paid and unpaid care work.
  • Identify opportunities to link national and global policy agendas to recognise, reduce and redistribute care in public policies, including decent work meaningful employment, social protection, labour rights and social dialogue)
  • Improve our individual and collective approaches to influencing policies on care
  • Agree on a set of next steps to take individually and collectively to keep the momentum of care on the national and global policy agenda in 2015.

In 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals will be negotiated and finalised and with the fify-ninth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) in March 2015, this meeting is an opportunity to share any national and international advocacy actions leading up to CSW and also for us to reflect on what more needs to be done to ensure women's paid and unpaid care work is addressed in the SDG and beyond.

For more information about the Global Care Advocacy Workshop see the Interactions website where it will be covered live or join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #unpaidcare and following @IDS_UK for updates.

Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed is an IDS Research Officer. She is also a PhD Candidate at the London School of Economics researching male and female domestic workers in Lagos, Nigeria.

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