To build back better, transform and invest in care economy, say leaders at Generation Equality Forum Paris

UN Women

At a high-level panel on care at the Generation Equality Forum in Paris on 2 July, the Government of Mexico, represented by the President of the National Institute of Women (INMUJERES), Nadine Gasman, launched the Global Alliance for Care.

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has laid bare the critical economic and social importance of care work – mostly unpaid and done by women – the Global Alliance is poised to mobilize policy and action that invests in the care economy and ensures economic justice and rights for women and girls worldwide.

“Care work has always been very high on the feminist agenda, but the COVID experience has made it very real for men and women”, said Gasman.

Around the world, the closure of schools and childcare during the pandemic pushed parents, mainly women, to a breaking point. UN Women research shows that on average, women now spend nearly as much time doing unpaid care work, as a full-time paid job. These impacts are more pronounced in developing countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa. Women have also been forced to leave the workforce at alarming rates, rolling back progress towards gender equality.

“We created the Global Alliance for Care as a call for urgent action by governments, civil society, the private sector and international organisations; actions that will change the way work is distributed,” added Gasman. “We need legal reform, more services, physical spaces for service [provision] and awareness campaigns. This is a socio-cultural transformation that we know is going to be revolutionary.”

UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Anne Hathaway affirmed that changing the way the world treats care-giving is a vital step in changing the opportunities for women to thrive, saying, “Care work deserves to be properly recognized and made visible. It needs to be safe and fairly paid. I spoke recently with women in Mexico who have been able to change their lives through getting help with care; from leaving situations of abuse to developing successful livelihoods. We all need to be able to make choices that are best for us and our families.”

UN Women Deputy Executive Director Asa Regner invited the distinguished champions for the care economy to join wide-ranging partnerships to reduce and redistribute the unpaid care work, and to promote decent work conditions for care-givers.

The high-level panel also highlighted how innovative policy design, financing, and investments in care infrastructure can be a game-changer for job creation, inclusive growth, poverty reduction, and women’s economic empowerment.

“We firmly believe that investments in the care economy have the potential to create decent jobs for care workers, particularly for women; and to contribute to the achievement of several Sustainable Development Goals, including those related to education, health, gender equality and growth, facilitating a recovery [from COVID-19] that is both inclusive and resilient,” said Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General.

The Government of Canada, represented by Karina Gould, Minister of International Development described care as a ‘triple win’. “It’s a win for children, for gender equality and for the economy. It’s one of the few policies that actually pays for itself.” Gould stated that the childcare system implemented in Quebec resulted in the province going from having the lowest female workforce participation in Canada, to the highest. Furthermore, “the number of women entering the workforce [in Quebec] has resulted in enough government revenue to pay for the childcare system,” she said. The Canadian government is to invest CAD 30 billion in a five-year plan to develop an accessible childcare system nationwide.

In the United States, recent efforts are also setting new standards for addressing the care economy nationally. For example, the Co-chair of the White House Gender Advisory Council, Jennifer Klein, explained how the United States’ first legislative package “provided immediate relief in the form of direct payments and expanded the the child tax credit, which will have a transformative impact on women and their families, and is projected to cut child poverty by half.” Klein added, “the President has put forth an even more ambitious vision for strengthening and reinforcing our country’s carrying infrastructure in his proposed American families plan, which is a USD 1 trillion commitment to working families.”

Moreover, efforts from the philanthropic sector are also now focusing on financing and investing in care, as underlined by Gargee Ghosh, the President of Global Policy and Advocacy at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – an Action Coalition leader on Economic Justice and Rights.

Speakers also emphasized addressing discriminatory gender norms that underpin and exacerbate gender inequalities is critical for reducing and redistributing unpaid care work. Tristan Champion, Blogger and Author highlighted how male engagement in care and domestic work can bring true change in the care economy. On paid domestic work, Elizabeth Tang, General Secretary of the International Domestic Workers Federation, said, “as domestic workers, we care for the families of others, but it is important to remember that we must have the time and leverage to care for our own families.”

Building back better – in ways that are gender-equitable – will require deliberate actions focused on the care economy. UN Women Deputy Executive Director expressed eagerness to work with all stakeholders to transform the global care economy over the next five years.

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