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Unpaid care work

Economic empowerment

Our work focuses on highlighting the importance of unpaid care work in women’s lives. We demonstrate the ill effects of unpaid care work on women’s and girls’ mental, emotional and physical health, and on their mobility and time, calling for an international and national recognition of unpaid care work in designing policies around social protection, early childhood development and women’s economic empowerment. To support this we have created policy briefs focusing on key issues, including:   highlighting the link between paid work and unpaid care work; a focus on carers of people suffering from mental health issues; and the importance of taxation for women’s rights.

We work with partners to raise the visibility of this issue in their country contexts, as well as calling for action at the international level (through inclusion of this as a target in Goal five of the SDGs; and the position paper for the UN High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment). Our objective is that public policy can implement the three Rs:[1] 

  • Recognition of the role of women and girls in the provision of unpaid care, as well as its social and economic value.
  • Reduction in the drudgery and time burden of unpaid care, especially for women living in poverty.
  • Redistribution of unpaid care work: from women to men, and from the family to communities and the state.

Our work also highlights the politics of policy processes, throwing light on issues of power and different negotiation tactics that work in different contexts to make unpaid care work visible.

Our work sheds light on a critical link between care and economic empowerment of women and girls. Research has shown that across the world, care forms an integral part of the ‘work’ package that women engage in daily, in addition to their paid work and unpaid care work responsibilities. Persistent and sticky gender norms mean that across all societies, women and girls undertake the bulk of unpaid care work. This unequal and disproportionate responsibility impedes their economic empowerment in significant ways. Our work therefore explores the linkages between care and Women's Economic empowerment (WEE), by asking two inter-related questions:

  1. How do women balance their care responsibilities alongside their paid work responsibilities – what is the relationship between paid work and unpaid care work, and how does this shape the choices that women make about paid work and about the quality and quantity of care work that they provide?
  2. How can WEE programmes take into account unpaid care work, such that the gains for women are optimised, shared across all females in the family and sustained across generations?

In addition, it is also critical to note that an increased focus on WEE has given a boost to making care concerns visible in public policy discourse, as policymakers and stakeholders realise the critical importance of unpaid care work in the lives of women and girls.

This policy briefing Balancing Paid Work and Unpaid Care Work to Achieve Women's Economic Empowerment provides an outline of the interactions between the market and the household, and of unpaid care work on women's economic empowerment. Redistributing Unpaid Care Work - Why Tax Matters for Women's Rights is a policy brief that looks at how tax policies and public services can diminish the disproportionate burden of care onto women, thereby upholding their fundamental human rights. The evidence report Empowerment of Women and Girls reflects on the international-level advocacy work of the unpaid care work programme (2012-15). A Feminist Political Economy Analysis of Public Policies Related to Care provides a review of secondary material on the political economy conditions of where, why, when and how unpaid care concerns become more visible on domestic policy agendas. The policy brief Gender-Equitable Public Investment: How Time-Use Surveys Can Help looks at time-use surveys' effectiveness in measuring the imbalance of unpaid care work and supporting evidence-based gender-equitable allocations of public resources.