Our global economy is kept going by hard-working people. This includes all the unpaid care work – primarily delivered by women looking after their families – that goes unrecognised.
Unpaid care leaves women financially worse off – as they don’t have the time or capacity to work longer. It means in some cases they can’t make enough money to meet living standards.
“[World leaders] urgently need to invest in care and other public services that make life easier for those with care responsibilities, and tackle discrimination holding back women and girls.” Oxfam’s Danny Sriskandarajah said.
Emma is struggling to get decent part time paid work because of childcare responsibilities for her two young children.
“By the time childcare and travel costs are paid, it doesn’t leave much left, so we don’t have much money as a family,” says teacher Emma from Bolton.
“I stay in work because it helps pay some bills, and for the future.” She says. “When both my children are older, I hope it will help that I have stayed in work. It’s just a struggle trying to make ends meet and make it all work now”.
Women and girls all over the world are struggling to balance care responsibilities with paid work and, in some cases, education.
We know this all too well at Oxfam because we see it in the 90 countries we work in, and through the experiences people share with us.
“With all the work that was assigned to women, we could never catch up with the men in our community,” says day care worker and housewife Rowena Abeo in the Philippines.
“I’ve been a day care worker in a school for ten years. And I’m also a housewife. Being a housewife takes so much time. I have so many things to do that I can’t finish right away.”
“In the past in my community, women used to just work in the house – cooking, cleaning and taking care of children. They also fetched water,” she says.
“The heaviest housework [was] fetching water. It [took] us three to four hours to go and get water because our water source is far. We [had] to go to the river and lift our own water cans.”
Some progress is being made in parts of the Philippines where unpaid care work is now included in planning and budgeting processes and so too is increasing access to safe water and childcare centres.
Rowenea lives in one of those places.
“[We] have water tanks now through the help of Oxfam and SIKAT*. We finally have taps and a hose, so we [don’t] have to carry water cans and pails anymore. We spend less time fetching water now. While we wait for the water to fill our water cans and drums, we can focus on other work.”
“[And] we started to attend trainings and seminars and learned about unpaid care work.”
“Now [my husband] helps me do the housework, like cooking, doing the laundry, and cleaning the house, especially when I am working in the school.”
“Not being responsible for all the [unpaid care] work alone or having to walk long hours to get the water we need, changes who I am. I have more time to help in the community.”
“We have a Self-Help Group, a group for women who live near each other. We help in barangay (village) clean-up drives, and in other activities where women are involved in the community.”
“It’s where we also get funding for our livelihood, for the school fees of our children and for emergencies.”
“There are many communities where women are still struggling a lot…”
“[Here in Salcedo Town] women are more empowered. Someday I hope this will happen not just here in Salcedo, but hopefully in the whole Philippines.”
Oxfam is campaigning to put people at the heart of our economy.
Oxfam’s research highlights how unpaid and underpaid care work is radically under-valued and taken for granted by governments and business. It is often treated as non-work, with spending on care viewed as a cost rather than an investment.
Climate change could further increase the workload of carers; by 2025, up to 2.4 billion people will live in areas without enough water, and women and girls will have to walk even longer distances to fetch it.
“One way that our upside-down economic system deepens inequality is by chronically undervaluing care work – usually done by women, who are often left little time to get an education, earn a decent living or have a say in how our societies are run, and are therefore trapped in poverty.” Oxfam GB’s Danny Sriskandarajah said.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, we’ll be sharing our research, the real lived experiences of people around the world, and proposing the solutions we need to reward women for their unpaid care work, transform the global economy, fight inequality and beat poverty.
We’re currently calling for governments to increase tax on the world’s wealthiest and use the money to invest in public services, funding better healthcare, education and care services. For instance, if the world’s richest 1% paid just 0.5 % extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years, enough money could be raised to create 117m jobs, including 79 million in education, health and social care which would help close the current care gap.
We need as much support as possible to put pressure on governments around the world to tackle this problem.
* SIKAT –Sentro para sa Ikauunlad ng Katutubong Agham at Teknolohiya–is a non-profit, non-government organization in the Philippines. It envisions empowered, sustainable and resilient coastal communities that call for transparent, accountable, participatory and responsive government programmes and processes.
With the WE-Care programme, SIKAT works with women-led self-help groups and men to mobilize community members in disaster preparedness and economic empowerment.