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Published: 1 Oct 2013

Measuring unpaid care work with public policy in mind

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Prepared for a UN Women expert group meeting on structural and policy constraints in achieving the Millennium Development Goals for women and girls, this paper by Valeria Esquivel concerns measuring unpaid care work with public policies in mind. Unpaid care work is a vital dimension of well-being for those who benefit from care, but it can come at great cost to caregivers in terms of material wealth, health, and rights. The report is structured around three of the key reasons why, despite their widespread use, time-use surveys (TUSs) continue to lack influence in informing gender-sensitive policy-making necessary to tackle these costs. Firstly, Esquivel argues that, in an effort to increase recognition and visibility through the inclusion of women’s work in statistics and economic models, there has been an overemphasis on accounting for women’s unpaid work within the framework of the United Nations System of National Accounts. This has resulted in a near exclusive focus on the production of very aggregate and crude TUS data, the usefulness of which is degraded by its lack of regularity (often being one-off studies). Secondly, for achieving policy influence, such studies are inadequate in their design; for short- and medium-term policies, much greater detail is required. A focus on policy must be inherent in all aspects of a study’s design, meaning a sufficiently large and balanced sample size, and control information for a variety of factors such as distance from water, details on available services and amenities, type of care administered, simultaneous activities, etc. Finally, the politics and norms surrounding international negotiations have presented the measurement and value of unpaid care in distinctly economic terms. For instance, a main driver behind gaining recognition of unpaid care has been the international Wages for Housework Campaign, which has sought redistributive justice not in terms of redistributing work, but of redistributing money.the process omitted other forms of redis Opposition by the European Union delegation led to the dropping of reference to wages, but in tributive justice and so was counterproductive. The paper closes by summarising what is needed: policy-focused time-use data collection to support the reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work within a framework that recognises both the contribution from and costs to caregivers.
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V. Esquivel

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