Of unpaid care work and the imminent care crisis

The Oxford English dictionary, defines the term care as the provision of necessities for health, welfare, maintenance and protection of someone. It is therefore apparent that care is a fundamental pre-requisite for one’s continuous survival.

The Oxford English dictionary, defines the term care as the provision of necessities for health, welfare, maintenance and protection of someone. It is therefore apparent that care is a fundamental pre-requisite for one’s continuous survival.

Today, care work is in some places paid for or in others cost free. Unfortunately, unpaid care workers don’t get rewarded, their work is not recognized yet they are not free as well.

Unpaid care work includes all those routine household activities such as cooking, cleaning, fetching water and collecting firewood, caring for the sick, elderly and children, especially done by women, girls or other family members without pay.

The intention of this article is to unveil how the burden of unpaid care work is wholesomely left in the hands of females at home especially in patriarchal societies.

Unpaid care work is an invisible form of subsidy to conventional production processes. A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce estimated that incorporating unpaid domestic work would have raised the US GDP by 26 percent in 2010.

Further, research undertaken by the World Bank in 1997 on care services revealed care services are an indispensable contribution to the maintenance of social capital, crucial to economic Development.

Most of the men wake up in the morning and find clothes already ironed, shoes well shining and some tea on the table. These useful services offered for free are a form of subsidy since you would spend money on the same services if they bore a price tag.

In our patriarchal societies, domestic care work is reserved for women. This takes lot of their time, reduces their chance of fully participating in paid employment. The problem gets worse for those that can’t hire housemaids to stand-in for them while they are away.

On an extreme note, some women have been reluctant to pursue work outside home for fear of jeopardizing the well-being of children, while others have chosen to minimize the burden of care by remaining childless. Where the later has happened, fertility rates have shrunk below minimum limits.

Studies on time use in the US concluded that employed women often work a ‘‘second shift’’ or experience a ‘‘double day’’, simply because women employed outside their homes, still retain their care work and so they keep juggling between paid and unpaid care tasks.

There is need for alternative approaches to free women from this entire burden through reduction, redistribution or replacement of unpaid care work burden. Citing one example, offering alternative child day care centres frees parents’ time to engage in other productive activities.

Further, the installation of Domestic biogas digesters reduces time the women would have spent collecting firewood with all the attendant risks. Extension of clean water near or within households also serves the same purpose and women can concentrate on work for a fee.

Alternatively, care work should be redistributed amongst all members of a given household; men, women and everybody, save for a few that are tied to biological sex attributes such as exclusive breastfeeding or the burden of pregnancy.

In the book of Philippians chapter 4, verse 4, they bible says that “let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others”. Let’s swallow our pride and equally share the burdens and benefits of care work wherever practically possible.

The writer is a policy advisor on gender and family promotion, Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion.

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