Dialogues on Caring Economies and Movement Building for a Gender Just Recovery — Rehema Patricks
Devising Solutions to Climate change; Transforming Systems of Power
Rehema Patricks is a feminist, human rights activist, and an avid writer. She leads a feminist initiative that aims to addresses systematic and structural issues at the root of inequalities, poverty, and conflict faced by women.
We are all familiar with and have experienced the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women’s social and economic wellbeing, exacerbating existing gender inequalities and posing a threat to achievements made in the past. Across the world, women lost jobs and incomes, experienced an increase in violence and care work responsibilities and their access to social services worsened. As we continue to reel from the impact of the pandemic, it is difficult to find something to give us hope. However, in this time of crisis when our social, economic and political systems seem to be overwhelmed, we also have an opportunity to examine gaps and rebuild systems to serve those who have been left behind in the past.
With this idea in mind, a diverse range of feminist organizations from various parts of the global South are coming together for an inter-generational dialogue to find feminist solutions for a caring economy, post-COVID recovery and build movements. This virtual event to be held on 8–9 December is to ideate and concretise actions on the pathways to intentionally build a better, more just and green future.
The pandemic has revealed the increasing burden of care work as one of the most important aspects of gender-based inequality. While men have also pitched in, women continue to play a key role in managing tasks ranging from care of the household such as providing food, fuel, and water to taking care of the sick, infants, and the elderly. This care work, often unpaid or underpaid, impacts women’s ability to participate in economic, social and political activities and has long-term consequences for their social and economic wellbeing. Moreover, much of this work remains invisible and is left out of policy discussions, thus contributing to the continued undervaluing of care work. In addition to this, many informal and domestic workers (often women) are often at a higher risk of sexual and gender-based violence and exploitation as they lack social protection and adequate resources to help them out.
In post-COVID recovery, one of the major goals should be ensuring that the care economy (paid and unpaid) does not become invisible once again. Moving forward, we should ensure policy responses to redistribute unpaid domestic work, while investing in the care economy through adequately financed gender-responsive public infrastructure and services and social protection programs. Additionally, we must move away from away from traditional economic growth models with Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the sole measure to one that accounts for women’s contribution to the economy. It may come across as a surprise to many that 16.4 billion hours are spent in unpaid care work every day. This is equivalent to 2.0 billion people working 8 hours per day with no remuneration. And three-fourth of this work is performed by women[i]. The post-pandemic world must put an emphasis on people and the planet rather than allowing a few to amass wealth at the expense of the many. The solutions should focus on structural changes that allow us to build better and anew. This means equal, more caring, greener and cleaner economies.
The lack of gender disaggregated data has meant that many policies related to the pandemic — including social protection, labour market, fiscal, and economic measures — have been designed without a gender perspective. This makes them ineffective for those who are most impacted by them — women, gender and sexual minorities, young people and marginalized groups who are never allowed a seat at the table. For instance, most women in Malawi work in the informal sector lack social protection to cushion them in periods of crisis such as this pandemic. They are most often not consulted when policies are made. Such policies are also often temporary and may not help them to recoup let alone recover with dignity. Any discussion on post-pandemic recovery must include the voices of these women. This should help in identifying means to address discriminatory social norms underpinning gender inequality in areas such as education and the job market just to mention a few. Investing in care can drive a stronger and more sustainable economic recovery. A growing body of research is rightly indicating that investments in care infrastructure and services has a greater potential to help recover and thereby build better for future crises which seems to be inevitable.
What is equally important is the need for movement building to act as platforms to have these dialogues between diverse sections of the marginalised. The idea of bringing in combined intelligence in the form of the experiences, wisdom and skills from the older and younger generations would be key in building a sustainable and gender just recovery. Interactive forums create meaningful shared knowledge that aid in addressing multi-layered challenges or barriers that women face. Women, girls and trans people signify unity as a group, and yet, amplify the need for taking into account differences among them (diversity) of age, culture, language, sexuality, ideologies, ethnicity, class etc. Solutions must be designed from an intersectional perspective, rather than a one-size fits all approach. These solutions can only be achieved through dialogues and sharing that are truly intersectional. Let the conversations continue and keep alive the hope that a more compassionate, caring, inclusive and just future is not only possible, but probably the only way ahead.
[i] International Labour Office (2018), Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work