[OPINION] Who is caring for our ‘invisible’ carers?
The coronavirus pandemic is exposing one of our greatest weaknesses as a society: the widening gap between the rich and the poor. With no end in sight at the moment, the impact of COVID-19 will be massive, devastating, and, in many areas of our lives, permanent.
This global pandemic worsens our already unequal and sexist economy. Just like in any crisis, it is always the poorest, marginalized, and most vulnerable people who suffer the most, especially women and girls.
It may appear that COVID-19 knows no race, gender, nor social or economic status – that one’s bank account and diplomas do not stop the rapid spread of the disease. However, our experience in the Philippines tells us a different story.
While it is true that anyone can be exposed, not everyone has the means to protect themselves, the opportunity to practice social distancing because of living and work arrangements, or the ability to cope financially and socially in the immediate and long-term. In some cases, ‘home’ is no longer a safe place for women who are quarantined with their abusers.
We must recognize the differentiated impacts of this pandemic and respond accordingly.
According to the World Health Organization, 70% of the world’s health workers are women – they are now in the frontlines of the pandemic, challenged by the shortage of resources and protective equipment to keep them safe.
In the Philippines, the livelihood of the women who comprise the majority of our informal sector, such as sidewalk vendors and home-based workers, have already been interrupted and negatively affected by the community quarantine restrictions.
On top of this, Oxfam’s recent findings on unpaid care and domestic work show that women in the Philippines are twice as much more likely to shoulder household tasks, such as childcare and cooking, which are compounded by expectations that they will now be the primary carers for the sick or for those under quarantine in the absence of enough hospital beds, test kits, access to critical medical services, and other social safety nets.
According to Oxfam’s latest inequality report, women around the world put in 12.5 billion hours of care work for free every day. Women’s unpaid care work alone is adding value to the economy by at least USD 10.8 trillion a year, a figure three times larger than the global tech industry.
In the Philippines, state think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies estimates that women’s unpaid work is worth nearly PHP 2 trillion, roughly 20% of the country’s GDP. Yet, the unpaid care work that they do is radically undervalued and taken for granted by society.
Considering that the wheels of our economy and society keep turning at the expense of the largely undocumented and unaccounted unpaid care work of women and girls, then why do government approaches against COVID-19 fail to consider their needs?
Who is caring for our ‘invisible’ carers? These questions are even more critical now as we must all hold the line on existing commitments to women’s rights against a background of mounting economic disruptions, social injustice, regressive policies, and resource scarcity owing to the pandemic.
We urgently need pro-poor and pro-women approaches to hurdle this health, poverty, and inequality crisis. We need more women from the marginalized and vulnerable sectors to participate in high-level decision making on local and national health preparedness and response.
We need the spaces for women’s rights and community-based organizations, self-help associations, cooperatives, and other civic groups to remain open and to persist, ensuring diversity in our voices. We need public health, social, and economic protection measures that understand and respond to the significant overlap between being a woman, being a carer, and being poor.
Flexible work arrangements
Governments and businesses can start caring for our carers by promoting flexible work arrangements and increasing access to paid leaves and social safety nets, including childcare support. Because COVID-19 is expected to increase the workloads of both paid and unpaid workers, our state duty-bearers must also invest in infrastructure and services that support the reduction of the unpaid care work of women, including water, energy, and health.
Women and men in the informal and agriculture sectors, as well as those trapped in ‘no work, no pay’ situations, will need support through emergency cash assistance that will tide them over and reinforce their dignity in these uncertain times. (Editor's note: Here's a donation link)
In the years to come, we will remember those who stood with the people during the crisis and those who simply looked after themselves. Our call is for governments and businesses to be on the right side of history.
Inaction robs women and girls of their time and opportunities, and puts at risk their safety and wellbeing. We either move forward with decisive and grounded solutions, or allow things to get worse with a business-as-usual approach. There is no middle ground because we are running out of time. – Rappler.com
Vin Aranas is a communications lead at Oxfam. His work centers on responsible business practices, inclusive value chains, and women’s economic empowerment. Oxfam is an international confederation of 20 humanitarian and development organizations working in more than 90 countries.