The need for a gender data agenda that accurately measures care
By Gabrielle Leite, Equal Measures 2030 Gender Data Analyst, and Ankita Panda, The Asia Foundation Senior Program Officer on Women's Empowerment and Gender Equality.
Gender norms around caregiving are pervasive, and treat care work as the domain of women, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. This means care is often treated as a labor of love, and that its costs are often invisible and underreported in official statistics.
A feminist care economy calls for a gender data agenda that recognises, reduces, redistributes, rewards and represents unpaid care work, the 5Rs of the care agenda. According to a policy brief by Data2x, “by collecting, analyzing, and using gender data across all 5Rs of care, governments can build an evidence-based feminist care economy—and drive lasting change for women, girls, and all those who provide and receive care worldwide.”
But data on care needs, workers, funding, policies and its impacts are scarce to non-existent. According to a white paper by The Asia Foundation, most of the data that exists focuses on paid care work, with data on unpaid care or care in the informal sector often unrecorded and unrecognized in official statistics. For example, 21 out of 58 countries in the Asia-Pacific have only one data point to measure unpaid care.
For its SDG Gender Index, EM2030 has also faced difficulties in identifying global indicators that capture the care economy. The lack of data on issues such as the time spent on care by different members of the household, formal and informal workers in the care economy, and the supply of care and associated costs is an impediment to ensuring that policymaking is truly gender-responsive and effective, and for SDG 5 — achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls — to be accurately measured.
The Asia-Pacific context
In Asia and the Pacific, women bear 80% of unpaid caregiving. “This is not just unequal, it’s the most unequal in the world.” Women in the region have historically worked the world’s longest hours, and more than half that time is spent providing unpaid care.
But it is complex to quantify. The Asia and Pacific regions are extremely diverse across incomes, cultures, infrastructure, governance structure and development levels. These differences lead countries of the regions to grapple with different types of care and care related challenges.
For example, high-income countries like Japan and South Korea are seeing rapidly ageing populations and low fertility rates. This is leading them to invest more in eldercare when compared to their low- and middle-income neighbors, like India and Bangladesh. These last two have large youth populations given their higher fertility rates and investment efforts are centered on and of greater scale in childcare.
The Foundation’s white paper also found that the Pacific Island countries generally lag behind other countries in the region in terms of care infrastructure and policies and data availability. For example, only five countries in the world— Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga—do not have any form of paid maternity leave (let alone parental leave) across all levels of government, and all are in the Pacific Islands.
More research is urgently needed in those countries to address this gap. The Asia Foundation’s Pacific Islands office is currently finalizing a research study that will provide an in-depth overview on the state of the care economy in the Pacific Islands, especially as it relates to care migration pathways and trends.
Addressing gaps in care data
Accessible and inclusive care policies and systems cannot be designed without quantitative, qualitative and participatory gender data. These policies are essential for promoting the well-being of children, women, households and societies, the functioning of the economy and the achievement of gender equality in the SDGs.
Addressing gaps in care data requires investing in more robust and rigorous research, and standardization of care data. Some recommendations provided in The Asia Foundation’s white paper to address this include:
- Prioritize and invest in care data: Governments should allocate sufficient resources in their budget for data collection and analysis.
- Standardize definitions and measurement methods: Establish clear and standardized definitions of care work, including both paid and unpaid care. Develop uniform measurement methods and metrics to ensure consistency in data collection.
- Improve data collection to incorporate measures of paid and unpaid work in national statistics. This could include conducting more costs-benefit analyses of investments and impact assessments of care policies and programs.
- Time-use surveys: Conduct and promote time-use surveys to capture the amount of time that caregivers spend in providing unpaid care work.
- Gender-responsive data collection: Ensure that data collection is gender-responsive, recognizing the disproportionate burden of care work that falls on women and to allow for intersectional analysis. This includes collecting gender-disaggregated data on care responsibilities, as well as multiple dimensions and characteristics such as age, geography, race, disability, immigration status, among others.
- Data on migrant and informal workers: Improve data collection methods for informal and migrant care workers who may not be adequately covered by labor protections. This includes tracking the employment conditions and contributions of these workers.
Credible data that capture both supply and demand can help governments make critical decisions about what to prioritize, where to target investment, who to involve, and how to allocate resources more efficiently and effectively and, especially, to make care work visible.
For the scholar and activist Silvia Federici, ‘’You cannot make good policy if the single largest sector of your nation’s economy is not visible [as] you can’t presume to know where the needs are.” Achieving gender equality for all women and girls everywhere and having a caring society that values and looks out for everyone, requires having a feminist data agenda that makes care work visible.
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: