• Gender equality and women's rights are central components of economic justice and governments should drive these through strong policies.
• Closer attention is being paid to the distribution of care work in societies and how it affects women's work abilities.
• Some governments, like Bogota's Mayoral Office, are addressing gender equality issues through partnerships with communities and the private sector.
The COVID-19 pandemic has turned many people’s lives into a delicate balancing act between responsibilities at home and work as full-time caregivers. Between a sharp uptick in unpaid care and domestic work, job loss, unemployment, and the closure of schools and childcare centres, challenges for women have only become harder.
In the coming years, unpaid care work will increase, threatening many women’s ability to continue working or return to the workforce altogether.
None of this should come as a surprise. The inequitable distribution of care work is one of the most significant obstacles to achieving gender equality. Even before the pandemic, girls and women shouldered up to three times as much unpaid care work as men.
The pandemic is having a dire impact on recent gender equality gains
A reversal of progress on gender equality is detrimental to communities, businesses, and the global economy. We can change this through institutional and cultural efforts to recognise, reduce, and redistribute unpaid care work.
At a structural level, governments should enact social protection and gender responsive policies that guarantee the human rights, agency, and well-being of caregivers and care receivers.
While the primary responsibility for addressing the inequitable distribution of unpaid care lies with governments, civil society and the private sector also have a decisive role to play. They can shift social perceptions of care work to reframe household duties as being everyone’s shared responsibility.
Economic justice makes sound business sense too. Creating workplaces that work for everyone will reduce poverty, boost economic growth and further inclusivity. We should use these policy and social tools to create societies — inside and outside of work — that value women equally.
The restorative approach of Bogotá
The Mayor’s Office of Bogotá, Colombia, is laying the foundation for a more gender-equal society by partnering with the community and the private sector to implement a holistic Care System.
Bogotá’s Care System seeks to recognize, redistribute, and reduce care work through training, respite, and care services. This includes professional and skills training, income generation and job connection services. So too, legal and psychological counselling services are being brought closer to communities. The overarching goal of the Care System is to transform social norms around domestic care work, while reducing the feminization of poverty and social inequalities in the city.
In 2021, the Mayor’s Office also launched the Men in Care programme, with support from the private sector. The motivation hereof is that men have a crucial role to play to create more just societies.
The programme, which runs mobile schools in multiple locations across the city, has successfully changed the hearts and minds of thousands of men, women, and families. Through interactive and creative workshops, it challenges machismo culture and reinforces the co-responsibility of care work.
How to create gender sensitive communities
Bogotá’s Care System and Men in Care programme serve as helpful models of concrete actions that other governments can take. Governments and workplaces can also follow other steps to promote care-friendly societies and workplaces, such as:
1) Implementing care-friendly and gender-responsive work and social policies
These policies can range from adequate, flexible, and equitable leave policies (such as paid parental leave for men). Essential and comprehensive health care policies, including comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, and family-friendly working hours will also help. The provision of affordable, reliable, and good quality child and elder care services are also good options to create more socially responsible work environments.
2) Focusing on social norm change and the role that men play in challenging unjust norms
Using marketing and advertising strategies to challenge outdated gender norms, such as the gendered division of labour in the household, is integral to creating more gender-equal societies. Through media campaigns, the government and private sector can promote gender-transformative norms, attitudes, and practices. This can ensure decent work for women and increase female representation and leadership.
3) Developing time- and energy-saving innovations in infrastructure and technology to reduce the burden of unpaid care work and lighten the load of household responsibilities (e.g., labour-saving devices and improved public transit services)
Incentives for the adoption of labour saving devices in households and improved public transit services will lessen women's time spent on unpaid care work. An example hereof, in Bogotá, is donated washers and dryers to the first free, public laundromat to reduce women’s time poverty.
4) Investing in learning tools and advocacy programmes through multi-stakeholder partnerships
Private sector entities should join multi-stakeholder partnerships like the Global Alliance for Care. Here they can share priorities, best practices, and lessons learned. So too, they can form part of the collaborative and transformative global process of implementing gender-responsive and care-friendly policies. Initiatives such as these can make communities, countries, and the world a better place.