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Undervalued and unrecognised: the importance of women’s unpaid care work for the post-2015 agenda

International advocacy workshop opens up possibilities for collaboration on human rights, gender equality and unpaid care

Who CAre


Across the world, unpaid care work is an obstacle for gender equality. These responsibilities, such as childcare and housework, fall disproportionately on women and girls.

The biggest impact is on those living in poverty – women who are less likely to have access to public sector provision and afford private services or technology to make their lives easier. Unpaid care responsibilities can impact on their access to decent paid work, education, health care, leisure time and political participation.

From January 22-23 2015, activists, researchers and representatives of civil society organisations who are part of the global movement for stronger policy and legislation on care work – paid and unpaid – came together in Bangkok, Thailand. The third Global Care Advocacy Workshop was co-hosted by Asia Pacific Forum for Women Law and Development, ActionAid International, Helevtas Nepal and the Institute of Development Studies.

At the event, opportunities were identified to link national and global policy agendas in order to better recognise, reduce and redistribute care. The workshop also explored feminist economics, analysed neoliberal policies and how they impact on care, and did a political mapping exercise to look at the key decision-makers in international and regional spaces.

The workshop opened up possibilities for more collaboration between movements on labour rights and unpaid care, particularly in relation to domestic work.

Care and the SDGs

The proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), due to be finalised at the end of 2015, include a target on unpaid care work under Goal 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women’.

The workshop reviewed the current wording and highlighted that challenges remain. For example, it was felt that there is still a need for more specific language, which puts the focus on the State and redistribution of care from poor families to the State. It was also suggested that a rights-based approach needed to be made clearer.

The Gender and Development Network have previously recommend that the wording be changed to: 'by 2030, recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid domestic and care work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection, and the promotion of shared responsibility between men and women.'

The Global Advocacy workshop identified that creative and progressive indicators could be one way to make the broader targets on the SDGs more specific, and highlighted the next eight months as crucial in advocating on unpaid care and the post-2015 development agenda.

Find out more about unpaid care and the Thailand Global Care Advocacy workshop here at the Interactions website.

Photo taken from the IDS/Matters of the Earth animation 'Who Cares'

Key resources on unpaid care

Unpaid care work resource guide
ActionAid International, 2013
This resource guide is based on discussions and thinking from the unpaid care work workshop held in Nairobi, Kenya from 21-24 March 2011. The workshop brought together ActionAid staff and partners from Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and India...
Connecting unpaid care work and childhood development for gains in women and children’s rights
D. Chopra / Institute of Development Studies UK, 2014
This policy briefing argues that women’s rights and children’s rights directly influence each other, yet there have been few successes at tackling the agendas in a collaborative way, limiting the quality of policy and prac...
Gender-equitable public investment: how time-use surveys can help
M. Fontana / Institute of Development Studies UK, 2014
This briefing argues that macroeconomic policy often fails to recognise the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work on women, and as a result reinforces both gender and income inequalities. The author argues that by providing deta...
Getting unpaid care onto development agendas.
R. Eyben; C. Smithyes (ed) / Institute of Development Studies UK, 2013
This IDS Policy Brief from January 2013 focuses on getting unpaid care onto the development agenda. Despite mounting robust literature on the quantity and importance of unpaid care work globally, including a substantial and highly cre...
Towards gender equality with care-sensitive social protection
D. Chopra / Institute of Development Studies UK, 2014
This policy briefing argues that unpaid care work and social protection are intrinsically linked. Women and girls' uptake of social protection provisions is affected by their unpaid care work responsibilities. Conversely these essenti...
The hegemony cracked: the power guide to getting care onto the development agenda.
R. Eyben / Institute of Development Studies, Sussex [ES], 2012
Numerous factors have played their part in keeping care of the development agenda: silence from government allows them to pass on the costs to families and communities rather than financing care as a public good; self-interest and pee...
Care in households and communities: background paper on conceptual issues
V. Esquivel / Oxfam, 2013
This paper clarifies the main conceptual issues around care as a major issue in promoting women’s human rights, empowerment and overcoming poverty and inequality. It outlines overlapping terms and debates relevant for local prog...
Participatory methodology: Rapid Care Analysis
T. Kidder; C. Pionetti / Oxfam, 2013
Although care is at heart a public good, responsibility for unpaid care work falls predominantly on women, contributing to their extreme poverty and social exclusion. Although changing the ways in which care is provided may take decad...
Rapid Care Analysis for development programs: initial findings and methodology
T. Kidder / Oxfam, 2013
Oxfam has developed a Rapid Care Analysis (RCA) to assess context-specific patterns of unpaid household work and care of people. Designed to integrate into existing tools on livelihoods, food, security or vulnerability, it makes visib...
The right to unite: a handbook on domestic workers rights across Asia
P. Smales / Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, 2010
This guide highlights several concerns about how the rights of domestic workers in Asia are upheld, or not. It highlights that most domestic workers are not recognised in their national labour laws as workers and that recruitment agen...
Extreme poverty and human rights: Special Rapporteur report
M. Sepúlveda Carmona / UN, 2013
This report from the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights positions unpaid care work as a major human rights issue. Focusing on women caregivers, particularly those living in poverty, the author argues that heavy ...
Gender and Care: Overview Report
E. Esplen / Institute of Development Studies UK, 2009
Providing care can be both a source of fulfilment and a terrible burden. For women and girls in particular, their socially prescribed role as carers can undermine their rights and limit their opportunities, capabilities and choices - ...