Care Work For Gender Equality

“Every time I see a mother with an infant, I know I am seeing a woman at work.  I know that work is not leisure and it is not sleep and it may well be enjoyable.  I know that money payment is not necessary for work to be done.  But aga

March 28, 2011, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol. : 04 No.-19 Mar.25-2011 (Chaitra 11,2067)

Care work is a service provided to others which can be either paid or unpaid.  The social work everyone does at home, for instance, cooking, cleaning, caring elderly and children and all other household works are not taken as a productive work until recently.  Economy only takes into account those works which are connected to financial benefits and wage is counted as per labor hours spent.

Obviously, care activities also take up a large amount of time and energy for those who perform it because it requires a superhuman strength and not all can cope with these tasks.  However, even if it is recognized that all these services at the household sector are equally important and valuable form of production point of view, there is still a dilemma of how to make this services visible from invisibility in economic calculations and counted as labor and work.  

For instance, if we look into some families, where female members are also in formal jobs, they have started hiring a person to look after the elderly or the children with a monthly salary which is again an economic issue to the person who is doing this job.  This is already a fresh recognition to care work and slowly it can be transformed into productive work in a more organized way. Large numbers of women are entering the public arena from the private life of household; this means a solution can be found where women are entitled to do care work as a choice and also an opportunity.  The changing nature of economy has given women freedom and justice and no job boundaries are felt between male and female. Why is care work so important and what are its implications? Even if the country agrees to all UN resolutions and launches national action plans, nothing can be changed when important issues like this are left behind.  Care work has a crucial relationship with economic  empowerment which unfolds new employment opportunities.  A characteristic of successful economic empowerment is the ability to exercise choice in matters of society, economy and politics.  Women who were often treated as dependent of men in social practice have now freedom to choose job.  Economic empowerment plays a vital role in decision making. Above all when women are economically empowered then paradigm shift of society will occur from inequality to equality. To create a just and equal society planners have to concentrate on this new option of care work which is engaging women all the time and not having freedom to take part on public affairs. Care work in Nepal’s context is the most important issue which is hindering the future path to equality. 

Care work in the village life is less a matter of concern as family members volunteer this job. But in urban areas there is large number of care centers opened to give care for children, elderly and the needy ones.  In rural areas, women are totally occupied with care work and other household tasks which are not as easy as in urban areas.  All these tasks are making them extremely busy and they cannot even concentrate on agricultural tasks where 74 percent of the women workers are engaged. Huge shift of male youths to foreign employment is another biggest challenge, where women are left with added responsibilities for all private and public tasks.  Therefore, if the issue of care work is taken over by the state, civil society institutions and private sectors then women can compete with the equal access to opportunities offered by the economy.  They will be free for the development work and contribute on the economic progress of the country.

If care work is dealt with economic lens, then it can be one of the major pillars of social security, which is one of the most essential aspects to maintain justice in the society. Justice creates level playing field for both male and female and also generates equal access to opportunity.  To be sure, social security is important for social and economic development.  We cannot measure social security only in term of costs, but also an investment in human assets for better productivity and freedom.  These consideration help to reduce poverty maintain equity and equality and support economic and social capacity of women.  To connect social security with care work, state or charitable institutions have to invest in care centers so that it is easily accessible to low income groups of Nepalese society.

Until recently, care work in Asia has not been taken as a work, but now it is getting recognized.  Its indirect contribution to the household to GDP has inspired policy makers to institutionalize care work considering that it creates the environment for equal access to opportunity.  Care work from economic perspective, takes into account the concern of focus on informal part since large number of women’s work are based on household tasks which are largely unorganized and informal.  Unless the state gives priority to these tasks and makes it visibly counted in the GDP, the path to equality is difficult.  As both men and women are living together, each and everything that happens affect them equally.  Therefore, removal of the traditional, social and cultural barriers is a precondition to move further to a spirit of mutual cooperation.  Since every society has its own customs and values, it is very difficult to reform and have strong gender commitments. It is very important to empower the disadvantaged women, but without ruining the society’s positive norms and the value of social security provided by our families.  Therefore, knowledge, awareness and economic empowerment will slowly bring changes at some point and will unfold the utility of new economic concept of care work.

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