The coronavirus pandemic has shown once again that women are on the front lines — and last in line when it comes to receiving much-needed, hard-earned relief and support. COVID-19 is exposing the long-standing gaps that run through our societies and health-care systems, as well as the abysmal state of affairs in the world of work. Women, always amongst the most vulnerable, are shouldering the bulk of the burden, particularly as they make up a huge proportion of health-care workers, putting them at greater risk of infection. At the same time, long-standing gender inequalities in unpaid work mean women also bear the brunt of the challenges that arise at home due to the closure of schools and childcare facilities. In many countries, particularly in the Global South, women are poorly remunerated, often with an informal employment status that puts them at greater risk of losing their jobs and incomes due to the drastic labour and market shocks triggered by the pandemic. They also face a heightened risk of violence, exploitation, abuse or harassment in times of crisis and quarantine.
The global FES project “The Future is Feminist” has been developed hand-in-hand with our friends and partners from the Global South, who have provided vital input concerning regional feminist perspectives on the future of work. Working closely together, we have developed a campaign on care work and social reproduction: Care to Join Us? When it was first devised, the world had not yet heard of COVID-19; even then, however, there was an urgent need to change how social reproduction and care work are organised. Through this campaign, we renew our solidarity with care workers, both paid and unpaid, a huge number of whom are women. Highlighting the relations between production, reproduction and capitalism, the campaign links this universal issue with the diverse experiences that women care workers face in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the MENA region. In shaping the future of work, it is vital to recognise, reduce and redistribute the unfair, disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work.
Let’s seize this opportunity to reimagine a world after COVID-19 that includes feminist visions and values. Care to join us? Share and support this campaign.
Women perform a significant amount of essential labour in crises, both unpaid care work and paid health-care work. When a crisis unfolds, women’s situation deteriorates due to double and triple burdens arising from additional care responsibilities, economic tensions and increased gender-based violence.
Care work is WORK! It includes paid and unpaid forms of care work. Although essential for societies all over the world, it is undervalued – and mostly done by women.
Care work is essential for all of us as individuals and for the survival of society as a whole. All human beings need care at various points in their life. Society can only endure if care work provides support for the next generation and for the labour force.
Care work is essential if our societies are to continue functioning; while that has become especially visible during the coronavirus crisis, it is likewise the case in other times and contexts. Care work demands strong motivation, is highly skilled, and can be physically and emotionally exhausting. For all these reasons, care workers deserve our solidarity and respect – including decent pay. Yet harsh realities paint a different picture: Care workers around the world are underpaid and often face tough working conditions.
Much care work goes unacknowledged and unpaid, reinforcing its undervalued status. Modern capitalism, however, revolves around wages. Unpaid activities are not valued or viewed as work. But at the same time, the capitalist system relies on and benefits from exploiting women’s unpaid labour.
As well as taking on the bulk of unpaid care work, women also do paid work. This double burden makes them severely short of time. Women’s lives are significantly affected by this time poverty; it curtails their chances of development on multiple fronts, for example by limiting their income opportunities, education and political participation.
Patriarchal and capitalist social norms define unpaid care as women’s responsibility, while men do paid work. But only the latter is valued. These social norms directly reinforce gender roles by socializing women to provide care. And they have an indirect impact too, informing public policies that neglect government responsibility for care provision, instead outsourcing the burden to women.
Society as a whole should take responsibility for care work instead of dumping it on women’s shoulders. That means the government, businesses and individual men all need to do their fair share. Recognising, reducing and redistributing care work will help achieve this, while care workers must be rewarded and represented.
“The Future is Feminist” is a global project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, working worldwide with feminists to develop positive visions for a better future that focus on economic policy issues and critical economic perspectives. The project in particular analyses the effects of digitalization and the future of work. It identifies common concerns of feminist and labour movements to create space for new powerful alliances aiming at social change. The project is a continuation of the work of feminist networks in the Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Northern Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa regions. It offers activists the opportunity to exchange ideas on burning issues, regional experiences and political strategies while serving as a space to experiment with new ideas.