Building Evidence for Policy Action on the Care Economy: Lessons from the #UNGA78 Side Event

by Oxfam Canada | October 19, 2023
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Photo: Los Muertos Crew / Pexels

The care economy is a pivotal yet often undervalued sector in society, with unpaid care work playing a significant role in the well-being of individuals and communities. A recent panel discussion, Building Evidence for Policy Action on the Care Economy, co-organized by Oxfam, the Global Alliance for Care and Data2X shed light on this essential issue, emphasizing the importance of data collection and policy initiatives to address the challenges and opportunities within the care economy. Panelists for the discussion included:

  • Fati N’Zi-Hassane, Africa Director of Oxfam International
  • Harriette Chiggai, Women’s Rights Advisor to the President of Kenya
  • Nadine Gasman, President of the National Institute of Women of Mexico
  • Peter MacDougall, Assistant Deputy Minister for Global Issues and Development at Global Affairs Canada
  • Emilienne de León, Interim Technical Secretary at the Global Alliance for Care
  • Krista Jones Baptista, Executive Director at Data2X
  • Seema Halam, Deputy Director of Gender Equality Policy, Advocacy and Communications at the Gates Foundation

Margery Kraus, Founder and Executive Chairman of Appco Worldwide, moderated a discussion that focused on the significance of the care economy and its impact on women and society. Panelists discussed the need to raise awareness about the importance of unpaid care work and to discuss how it can be better valued and integrated into policy initiatives.

Data was a recurring theme in the discussion, underscoring its critical role in understanding the care economy. Comprehensive data collection is vital for measuring unpaid care work, informing policy decisions, and tracking progress. Some methods that are being used by different governments to generate data on the care economy are through time use surveys and mapping of care service provisions. These tools have collected data that has revealed that women dedicate three times as much time to unpaid care work as men, emphasizing the gender disparities that are embedded in the care economy.

Also, key to the discussion was the significant efforts undertaken in Kenya to collect data on unpaid care work and develop a national care policy. Harriette Chiggai, Women’s Rights Advisor to the President of Kenya, detailed how the Kenyan government is actively working on implementing a national time-use survey through the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics in partnership with Oxfam and other actors, to collect data on unpaid care work. This data is crucial for understanding the distribution of unpaid care work and its economic implications and for informing the establishment of the National Policy on Care – the first of its kind in the African continent. Harriette Chiggai also gave details on how the government is committed to enhancing women’s economic empowerment and improving their economic status, recognizing that addressing unpaid care work is a vital step in achieving these goals. The care policy in Kenya is expected to address the challenges and inequalities associated with unpaid care work, especially in recognizing the importance of care work and addressing its economic dimensions.

Nadine Gasman, President of the National Institute of Women of Mexico, also shed light on how data on unpaid care work has been instrumental in advocating for increased investment in care services, particularly in how to understand the distribution of unpaid care work between men and women. Mexico has been using the national time use survey tool to measure both direct and indirect time committed to care work. As a result of this tool, they found that the amount of time women dedicate to the care economy is equivalent to 21% of the country’s GDP. As such, Mexico is viewing the care economy as an investment rather than a cost, and is focusing on supporting women to get into the formal economy. To this end, the Mexican government has focused on providing universal childcare and services for the elderly and people with disabilities, to help women join the formal workforce and continue to be drivers of economic prosperity throughout the country. A particularly noteworthy achievement from the Mexican government was the development of a georeferenced National Care Map which identifies care services throughout the country, helps citizens locate accessible care services, and informs decision-makers on areas that require investment. This tool allows decision-makers to visualize who is being serviced by providers (e.g. children, elderly) and where the majority of services are located (e.g. urban, rural).

Peter McDougal, the Assistant Deputy Minister for Global Issues and Development of Global Affairs in Canada, underscored Canada’s commitment to gender equality, both domestically and in international assistance. Canada has adopted feminist policies and incorporated a feminist perspective into its international assistance policy, with a goal to ensure that every dollar spent contributes to high gender equality targets. McDougal pointed out that care work had not been a significant part of Canada’s development program until recently, emphasizing the need to highlight the importance of the care economy. In 2021, Canada committed 100 million to international standalone care funding which has resulted in Canada funding 6 gender-transformative projects in collaboration with civil society and multilateral organizations to support domestic workers’ rights, quality child care services, and gender-responsive policies. One notable project mentioned was the “Time to Care” project, a collaboration between Oxfam Canada and Kenya, aiming to address inequalities in both paid and unpaid care. McDougal stressed the importance of focusing on paid care workers’ rights and needs.

In the domestic context, McDougal emphasized Canada’s commitment to early learning and child care, by committing $30 billion to building a national childcare system in Canada, with a goal of creating affordable and high-quality child care spaces across the country. This initiative focuses on reducing the cost of quality child care to 10 dollars a day by 2026 and is part of Canada’s efforts to achieve a “triple win” for children, gender equality, and economic and societal benefits.

Civil society organizations, such as Oxfam International, highlighted the challenges that remain in advancing gender equality through the care economy. This includes the challenge of lack of financial resources invested in this sector, the limited recognition of unpaid care work as a driver to gender inequality, and the male dominance of policy making spaces that often overlook unpaid care work.

To address these challenges, the panelists highlighted a need for a paradigm shift that makes a direct connection between unpaid care work and the lack of access to decision-making spaces and economic opportunities. In terms of where investments and actions are needed, the panelists emphasized the importance of care policies that recognize the value of unpaid care work. To do this, countries need to collect essential disaggregated data and invest in care services that promote gender equality and societal well-being.

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