The Care Imperative

Women and the MDG

(Millennium Development Goals)

What About All That Unpaid Labour?

Two ideas are promising, both for proponents of gender equity and for policy makers looking to boost economic growth:

  1. Women’s empowerment is now widely seen as central to reducing poverty and creating better health outcomes.
  2. Countries with greater gender equity in employment and education have higher rates of human development and economic growth.

Super, you think.  Everyone will now have an interest in greater gender equity throughout society.

So, the logic goes, to improve overall economic growth and human development, get those women jobs and political power. Voila. Bingo!

But wait. There’s a catch.  Women just can’t avail themselves of all these neat entrepreneurship opportunities and training sessions and political participation forays. Why?

They’re too busy taking care of people!  We forgot!  All that ‘work’ that doesn’t get measured or paid: women do it!  All over the world, unpaid care work is still overwhelmingly women’s work.  And care work takes time, enormous amounts of time.

All that caring for people? All that child care? The taking care of the elderly? And the sick?  The cooking and water hauling? Time and energy – lots of it. And that’s not even including actual childbearing and recovery.

“Unpaid care work is a major obstacle to women taking on paid employment or starting an income generating activity outside the home,” according to The Care Imperative, an Op-Ed from the always insightful folks at UN Women.

And this disproportionate burden starts early – educational opportunities for girls are constrained by their domestic duties from an early age, further weakening their options for decent, well-paid jobs later in life.

Care giving is the backbone of societies in every culture; it is an irreplaceable social good and one which brings untold physical and psychic benefits.  And for most women of the world, their reward for this social essential? Poverty.

So until we start to recognize caregiving as a collective social responsibility we will not really be opening the door for women to advance.  There are ways to do this, it is not out of our control, but policy makers must incorporate these initiatives into post-2015 development goals.

Suggestions to start:

  • child benefits, paid directly to women
  • more child care (well that’s news….)
  • improved public infrastructure where it counts (water access, safe transportation for women)
  • incentives for men to take their share of the care and social change campaigns to make this acceptable