From 2012 to 2016, IDS and partners in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kenya, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda have undertaken research into unpaid care as part of our research programme on “Influencing Policies to Support the Empowerment of Women and Girls”. We have been exploring the political economy conditions under which policy actors recognise or ignore the significance of unpaid care.
Along with our partners, we have been looking at the supply side of care: who provides care, under what conditions, and at what cost? We have also looked at where, why, when and how unpaid care concerns become more visible on national and international policy agendas. The key recommendations from our work are outlined below, with links to the source output for further reading.
- The recognition and valuing of care work, both paid and unpaid, is fundamental to achieving gender equality for women and girls. In particular there is a need for a thorough understanding of the impact of care work on women’s access to education, health services and decent work. Yet care work is invisible in public policy. In Nepal, our mapping exercise found that there is no definition, or proper understanding, of unpaid care work at the policy level. Governments need to have a more thorough understanding of the issue.
- Quality state-funded public services are needed to shift the burden of care away from women. These should be financed through more progressive tax policies. Our Nepal study highlighted the need for state input in the reducing the burden of water, fuel and food collection for women.
- Unfair tax policies impact on the provision of care. When large corporations or rich individuals are allowed to avoid meeting their tax responsibilities, quality public services are less likely to be able to be provided by the state. The use of indirect taxes on consumption, such as VAT, unfairly add further pressure on poor families as this tax is incurred on goods and services these families need to provide care.
- Our evidence report on international-level advocacy work indicates that large-scale issues such as migration, HIV and ageing bring questions of unpaid care to the fore. These issues all impact on increasing the care burden for women. For instance work-related migration can concentrate care work on those who stay behind.
- We need to celebrate care as valuable. Advocacy efforts at both the national policy level and also within communities need to visibilise care and underline its value in order to counteract harmful social norms. In our Nigeria work there was an initial backlash to the process at the individual, community and national levels, expressed as: ‘why do we want to change women’s natural role?’ Resistance was reduced, however, by working with key players such as the media who were able to raise awareness of the issue.
- There is no economy without care. All economic systems depend on care for people and care for the environment. It is not a matter of ‘adding’ care to the economy. It has always been there and its presence makes the economy function. It is about ‘making care work’ visible in the economy. Our work in Uganda found that unpaid care work goes unrecognised in the calculations of Uganda’s economy. It is not included in labour force surveys or GDP figures. As a result, the realities of women’s and girls’ work burdens are excluded from the data informing policymaking at local and national levels.
Women’s rights and children’s rights directly influence each other. Childcare responsibilities, for instance, directly impact how and what paid work women are able to do. This is why a focus on ECD goes hand in hand with making positive changes in unpaid care.
A broader understanding of economic empowerment encompasses both the market economy and also the care economy that sustains it.
Successful social protection policy incorporates unpaid care into its aims, design, implementation, and evaluation. Yet unpaid care remains invisible in many policies.