Friday, 29 March 2013

Care Work is an Essential Dimension of Human Wellbeing

This ProgBlog article by Make Mothers Matter, was a contribution to the Wikiprogress online consultation - “Reducing poverty is achievable: Finding those who are hidden by inequalities"

Care work is an essential dimension of human wellbeing. It encompasses indispensable domestic services within households, education and childcare, care of the sick, the disabled and the elderly, and services to communities.

Yet it remains, in the vast majority of countries, unrecognized both economically, legally and socially.

Time-use studies indicate that women bear at least 2/3 of the unpaid care work burden. As a result, women, and mothers in particular, suffer from “time-poverty” that prevents them from engaging in income generating activities. This devotion is often a necessity to compensate for the lack of social services available.  All too often women have to give up paid work outside the house to care for an elderly or sick child.  And in many areas unpaid work also has to compensate for the lack of public infrastructure (water and sanitation, energy, communications, transportation, health services…). Unpaid work is at the root of women’s poverty and discrimination.

Still, Nobel Price Laureate Gary Becker famously stated:
“The mother at home raising her children makes a greater contribution to the economy than the father in the workplace” (1998 UN Conference on the Family).

Notwithstanding the recognition of its importance in the Beijing Conference outcome document, and the recommendation that states create “household satellite accounts” that include a valuation of unpaid work into GDP figures for a better indicator of development and wellbeing, unpaid care work remains hidden from most statistics.

It is therefore urgent that:

  • countries agree both on a common time-use survey framework and a common valuation methodology that balance simplicity/cost of implementation and comprehensiveness/meaningfulness of results;
  • the economic and social  value of mothers’ caring work for her family be better recognized;
  • new statistics be taken into account in development policies, that could notably aim at reducing the burden of unpaid work through the implementation of better social policies and infrastructure.

An encouraging sign is that during the High Level Panel held at the UN during the Commission on the Status of Women on march 12th, many countries have expressed the desire and recommendation that unpaid care work be recognized in national statistics, namely GDP, to underscore its importance and value to society as a whole.

One way to accelerate progress would be to integrate unpaid work in the post 2015 agenda: the implementation of an unpaid work indicator would not only underscore its economic value but also point to its uneven distribution between men and women, forcing states to act.

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