The Making of 'Who Cares: Unpaid care work, poverty and women's / girl's human rights'

by Deepta Chopra

Unpaid care work:

  • What is it?
  • Who does it?
  • Why is it a problem?
  • How does it affect the rights of women and girls?

Public policy for economic empowerment of women and girls:

  • How is this linked to unpaid care?
  • How do policy decisions affect unpaid care work?
  • What does public policy sensitive to care look like?

The problem for policy makers

Imagine for one minute you are a policy maker. Imagine you have huge amounts of work to deal with, and need to provide key information about the two areas listed above. Imagine you had read something in a research report last year. Unfortunately you can't remember the details, and you definitely don’t have time to find the key messagesin a huge and complex report. Imagine you have eight minutes to provide this information, before you need to move on to the next topic.

We imagined this policy maker too. We were the authors of the research report that the policy maker had read a year ago. Our research programme is built on the critical fact that unpaid care work underpins all development policy, and is critical to ensuring sustainable economic empowerment of women and girls, leading to true gender equality. This is because of five factors:
  1. Unpaid care occupies large amounts of women and girl’s time, leading to time poverty which impacts directly on the rights that women and girls can enjoy – including the right to work, right to education, and the right to participation. These links have been made explicit in the UN special rapporteur’s report on unpaid care
  2. The lack of leisure time reduces women and girl’s wellbeing as well as impacting negatively on their health.
  3.  Women in the paid labour market may not be able to provide for adequate substitutes for their care responsibilities, compromising the human development outcomes for those that they are caring for.
  4. Any substitutes may come through pushing the care responsibilities to older women and girls, which impacts on their development and rights.
  5. Finally, the income from paid work may be eroded by payments for substitute care, which defeats the objective of economic empowerment.
While this makes clear the links between economic empowerment and unpaid care work, the question is whether unpaid care work is visible or not, in designing and implementing public policies. This question underpinned the thematic review we conducted, in which we concluded that unpaid care work was largely invisible in social protection and early childhood development policies (more details can be found  in the full research report ). We hypothesised why unpaid care work was invisible to policy makers, and are currently engaged in an action research programme to understand how unpaid care work could be made more visible in public policy.

But the problem was this key information was hidden in over 80 pages of two extensive research reports. And we know that the policy maker has only eight minutes to view the information and respond. So how were we going to make unpaid care visible?

Our solution

We imagined an animation which would tell the story of a woman living in poverty, and her daily life. We imagined policy makers making decisions without realising the implications of these decisions on the life of this woman. We imagined first the disconnect, and then through a process of immersion, the connections that could be made, the solutions that policy makers could propose to recognise and redistribute unpaid care work, and reduce the drudgery it entails.

We imagined an animation that would deliver key messages about unpaid care work in under 5 minutes, with visuals that would be striking and stick in the memory. We imagined that these visuals would cut across boundaries of geographical regions, being as valid to an East Asian setting as to a Latin American setting, as relevant to policy makers in Sub Saharan Africa as to policy makers in South Asia. We imagined music that would carry the story line with emotion. Above all, we imagined a critical message being conveyed with simplicity and clarity, without losing its nuances.

The result

We produced ‘Who cares’

The process

It took us a year to conceptualise the story line, work with an animation company to develop characters, provide constructive feedback to deliver the right messages, the right images and the right music. What you see now, is the final product of many hours of discussion and thought, always with the image of the sympathetic but incredibly busy policy maker at the front of our minds.

Our hopes

We hope this animation will provide the answers to the questions posed at the start of this post. We also hope that this animation will bridge the gap between policy makers constraints on time, and their need for simple yet useful messages backed by complex evidence on the subject of unpaid care and economic empowerment of women.

We hope that this animation will urge policy makers to put into place policy solutions that:
  1. Recognise the importance of care as work, as being fundamental to everyone’s well being, and as being critical to the realisation of the rights of women and girls
  2. Reduce the drudgery associated with care work,
  3. Redistribute care responsibilities – from women to men and from the family to the state,
  4. Reallocate national budgets to ensure support for care amongst poor and vulnerable families.
Please leave your feedback and comments below, and share the message to ensure sustainable economic empowerment of women and girls.

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