The Care Economy
I’m sure you’ve heard of the Market Economy and the Global Economy. But have you ever heard about the Care Economy? Yes. There’s an economy by that name, and it consists of a disproportionate number of women and girls as its main contributors. And worst of all, these women and girls tend to go unpaid for their labour.
Listen, I don’t know what your experiences are, but if you’ve ever looked after anything (let’s say a plant, small dog or even a young child), you’ll know that caring for anything is work; caring for something is labour. It takes time, patience and energy to look after something or someone. Now, try to imagine what it would be like if people had the expectation of you to always care for someone or something. In other words, it was your duty, for no other reason than you exist, to care for a sick relative or a young child. This, dear readers, is the everyday reality of millions of women around the world.
The issue of women being innate caregivers isn’t specific to any one culture or country. In fact, this belief spans the entire globe, and with belief comes the expectations of women to have a golden touch on various duties ranging from domestic household chores to changing a soiled diaper from a crying baby. This social obligation women face prevents them from doing things they may want to pursue because they’re too busy taking care of the needs of someone other than themselves.
Now, I’m not saying that women and girls should disregard the needs of the people around them. I believe the people who live together should help each other in the ways they are able to, but I’m so tired to hearing and seeing women as the main workers in the care economy because society has decided to feminise certain types of work. Important professions such as teaching, nursing and social work that directly contribute to this economy are too often seen as female professions.
Similarly, after a long day’s work, the image to be seen in most traditional households is the mother in the kitchen preparing dinner, with her apron strung over her work attire, while her husband relaxes in the couch after a long day, beer in one hand and the TV remote in the other. While he flicks idly through the channels, his partner balances cooking and trying to get their children to finish their homework for the night. Now, I understand that thins image may be very specific, and it fails to highlight the various types of family forms that exist in today’s society, but for the purpose to this article, please excuse my inferred heteronormativity.
Interestingly, despite how successful a woman may be, she’s still expected to uphold her caregiver status. These responsibilities could cause a phenomenon known as time poverty, where women are faced with insufficient time to recuperate from the transition from working in the formal market economy (e.g. working a 9-5) to the informal care economy. Many women experience burn out due to the high demands they face. Imagine being a ragdoll, and being pulled in all directions by all your limbs. Not fun, as you can imagine.
But, how can we change things as they are now, you may ask? Well, we can start out by sharing responsibilities equally. Whether that means splitting the chores down the middle, or assigning responsibilities to the person most capable to do the chore, ensure that one person isn’t doing all the duties. We can look at aspects of care work that can be considered full-time jobs, and see where unpaid labour can become paid labour. One proposal on the table, by WE-Change, is a Guaranteed Minimum Income (similar to what persons elsewhere call Universal Basic Income) paid on a monthly basis:
We can also work to re-socialise gender norms by raising our children differently; this has to take place in homes and schools. Gender parity is achievable if we all decided to mobilise for change by deciding to no longer participate in the crippling norms that exist today.