Caring about those who care for others
28 Jul 2015 by René Mauricio Valdés, Resident Representative, UNDP Argentina
All societies have people to care for and care-givers. Although there are different forms of care-giving, it is often undertaken by family members, mostly women and girls whose labor is usually unpaid.
Here in Argentina, a country which has made remarkable progress in women’s rights and gender equality, women currently devote almost twice as much time as men to care-related tasks: 6.4 hours a day compared to 3.4 hours.
The ability to meet care needs is also critical to national well-being, and the economic dimension of care-work is becoming more visible in Latin America. Studies undertaken in Colombia and Mexico indicate that the economic value of care activities accounts for approximately 20% of GNP.
The region is now facing a mounting care crisis. The number of people requiring care is increasing, due to greater life expectancy, while the number of people available as unpaid care-givers is diminishing, caused by a lower fertility rate and the mass entry of women and girls into the labour market and educational systems. In addition, the ‘demographic bonus’ – when the working population is larger than that of elderly people and children - is coming to an end in many countries, while the dependency rate will grow and the number of children and elderly will increase significantly.
The absence of a more integrated care system has a negative impact on the equality of rights between men and women, on women’s representation in the labor market, and on the possibility for lower-income households – many led by women-- to exit poverty.
Public policies on care-related matters should ensure that time, money and services are available to provide care. This can translate into leave or time off to care for dependent people within households, cash transfers to help care for family members, and public services targeted to provide care.
In Latin America there are already many important policies and programs that can be built upon, including maternity and paternity leave systems in formal employment, family allowance and conditional cash transfer programs, the pension system, and programs to universalize basic social services.
These programs have typically arisen from agendas other than those of care-giving, or from a non-gendered approach, resulting in less comprehensive policy packages and several impending challenges. For instance, cash transfers have significantly increased expectations for women to care, in relation to those of men, an issue which still needs to be addressed.
There are widespread disparities regarding the care of children under the age of four, the elderly, and the disabled. This has a disproportionately negative impact on lower income families who cannot purchase care in the market (kindergartens, homes for the elderly, special institutions) or hire domestic help.
Both Uruguay and Costa Rica have started to address this issue by expanding or creating services for children under four years old from low income households. In Mexico, the government now subsidizes child care centers aiming to significantly increase women’s labor force participation, focusing on children whose mothers work in jobs not covered by the Mexican social security system.
Here in Argentina, UNDP, UNICEF and ILO, in partnership with think-tank CIPPEC (Center of Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth) carried out a series of policy dialogues on care (Los Diálogos del Cuidado) with broad participation of experts, decision-makers, legislators, and human rights organizations, both national and international.
The Diálogos have been fruitful. In June 2015, Argentine national legislator María del Carmen Bianchi presented a bill for establishing a National Policy for Early Childhood Care.
The UN group will continue its work in this area. We welcome experiences and reflections on care-work and how care policies could help achieve gender equality.
A longer version of this blog was originally published here.