Recognising the unpaid care economy for a gender equal future
Written by Ester Pinheiro, Communications Officer, Equal Measures 2030 in conversation with Lucia Espiñeira - economist and coordinator at Ecofeminita
Every day women spend 16.4 billion hours on unpaid care work, equivalent to 2 billion people working 8 hours a day without pay, according to data from the ILO's 64-country time-use survey. Women work twice as many hours as men in unpaid care work. In a year, women spend 1,118 hours (47 days) on these tasks, while men spend just 572 hours (23 days).
Globally, unpaid work is equivalent to 10.8 trillion dollars, with only four economies in the world scoring above this value. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this contribution represents between 15.7% and 24.2% of the regional GDP, with women contributing 75% of this value. In Brazil, 11% of GDP comes from care work, worth more than any industry and twice as much as agriculture in the country.
Despite the significant time and value of this work, current economies largely ignore it. Gender divisions in the labour market leave women working daily without renumeration and this inequality is normalised by patriarchal ideas of caring being a biological female instinct and thus the duty and destiny of women.
Lucia Espiñeira, economist and coordinator of MenstruAcción in the organisation Ecofeminita criticises mainstream economics for not addressing the care variable, "the basis of capitalism's systems of inequality". "By making feminist policies we are attacking the biggest problems in society, because poverty is feminised, because we are the ones who earn the least, who have the most precarious jobs and who are most responsible for care. As the writer Amalia Pérez Orozco says, it's about 'putting lives at the centre and not markets at the centre'.”
The 5Rs for a stronger economy
The 5Rs: ‘recognize, reduce, redistribute, reward and represent’ provide a basis for valuing unpaid care work. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the work that goes unrecognized, negatively affects women's employment prospects, whereas a more equal distribution between men and women is associated with higher levels of women's labour force participation and consequently a stronger economy.
To recognize care in the economy, Espiñeira warns that it is necessary for governments to look at and focus on care-dependent people and beyond, recognizing that all people need care.
"It is necessary to generate public policies to recognize care work in a practical way: with investment in the construction of nurseries for children, institutions for the elderly and people with disabilities; providing assistance to professionals with training on how to care for different groups of the population; licenses for pregnant women and adoptive parents; creating ways to include people in situations of informality in these policies", analyses Espiñeira.
The benefits of recognizing care
The positive impact of policies recognizing unpaid care work is remarkable in women's lives and in the economy, according to the ILO. This shows that the issue of unpaid care is still an important feminist agenda to be addressed. "In Argentina we have had feminist movements such as 'Ni Una Menos' against harassment and abuse, the 'Marea Verde' for legal abortion and since then we have been at a standstill, I think the care agenda could be the next fight", says the economist.
In order to communicate with the mainstream economy, Espiñeira emphasises the direct improvement in productivity rates, i.e. women are re-entering the labour market and have a chance for advancement. In addition, recognising care also reduces the impact on women's mental and physical overload.
"In the end, where is women's leisure today?," Espiñeira asks. To quote the Argentinean writer Eleonor Faur, symbolically women would be "jugglers', trying to reconcile different tasks and forgetting about themselves, living precarious lives that do not go beyond working.
As an attempt to promote education about this inequality, a care calculator has been developed in Argentina that has a similar logic to the Equal Measures 2030 calculator, which estimates when certain gender equality indicators will be reached in each country.
This awareness-raising tool in Argentina estimates how much domestic and care work is worth in order to raise awareness of the effort, time and money required to perform it. In particular with the aim of incorporating men into care work, which is historically marked and naturalised as 'women's roles'.
Power dynamics influence how we measure and organise economies, particularly when it comes to care work and what is considered 'worthy' of remuneration. To move towards a gender-equal future, we must unravel these power dynamics and address the important unpaid work that underpins our economy. Doing this starts with recognising, reducing, redistributing, rewarding and representing.
This series of blog posts done by Equal Measures 2030, in collaboration with other feminist organizations, aims to raise awareness on the first UN International Day of Care and Support and to shed light on the importance of care work and the care economy, and the pressing need for accurate and inclusive data. Read the other blogs in this series: