The disproportionate burden of unpaid care work that women and girls shoulder is a direct cause of the persistence of gender inequality and the denial of women’s and girls’ rights. It is difficult to see how substantial change can be achieved in any related area without tackling this fundamental barrier to progress.
Unpaid care work includes domestic work such as cooking and food preparation, cleaning, washing clothes, water and fuel collection, and keeping safe living environments. It also includes directly caring for people including children, older people, people who are ill or have disabilities, as well as for able–bodied adults. Without this daily care, life would not be sustained and reproduced, and the labour force would be unable to function. Yet, despite this, it is mostly unremunerated and unrecognized and often uncounted.
The solution does not lie, as is sometimes assumed, in ‘wages for housework’. The changes needed are more profound. They require recognition of the vast amount of unpaid care work undertaken and its central role in society; then a reduction in the time and drudgery required to provide high quality care, and finally a redistribution of responsibility for this care from households to the state, through the provision of public services, and from women and girls to men and boys.
For decades this unequal burden has remained largely ignored. But there are signs that this is starting to change, not least with the important proposal that a target on unpaid care be included in the Post 2015 framework.
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