In January, Oxfam’s Time to Care report revealed how prior to Coronavirus, heavy and unequal care responsibilities were already trapping women in time and income poverty and locking them out of public and political life. This is no accident, but a result of a broken economic system built on patriarchy, capitalism and racism, which has for centuries undervalued, marginalized and invisibilized women’s labor.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, school closures (which according to UNESCO is currently affecting 60% of the world’s learners), inaccessibility of childcare and disruptions of other care systems amid a healthcare crisis that has sparked global quarantining measures, have further shifted caring responsibilities from the state and private sector into homes with families doing even more work than before.
Oxfam and partner’s new research to be released on the 25th of June reveals that over half of the women surveyed, report spending more hours on tasks such as cooking, washing, cleaning and caring for children and family members since the pandemic began at great detriment to their wellbeing.
Oxfam surveyed 6,385 women and men in the US, UK, Canada and in poor urban communities in the Philippines and informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya to understand how the Coronavirus pandemic has affected women’s and men’s unpaid care workloads, the impact this is heaving on health, economic security and wellbeing, and how this varies across different contexts and by race, ethnicity, income, age and type of household (single or dual parent).
Poor and marginalized women are paying the highest price
The research confirms that women at the intersection of multiple inequalities, those living in poverty, marginalized based on their ethnicity, income, race, indigeneity, education, and migration status continue to be pushed furthest to the margins and have had to pay the highest price.
Women, particularly those living in poverty, single mothers and essential workers as well as families belonging to minority racial and ethnic groups are doing the bulk of care work during the pandemic. This increases the risk of deepening intersecting inequalities and pushing marginalized women deeper into time, income and voice poverty.
• Single mothers, women living in poverty, and ethnic and racial minorities reported the largest increase in unpaid care work. In the Philippines, Internally Displaced Persons, solo mothers, young mothers and those enrolled in the government social protection programme reported on average an increase of more than five hours in unpaid care work during the pandemic.
“It is so much harder now to take care of my family without a stable source of income. I wish that the pandemic ends soon, so that the classes can resume, and I can revive my small business.” — Arlene from Tacloban City, Philippines, who was interviewed as part of the research
• In the US, an average of 75% of Black or African American, Asian, Hispanic or Latino/a respondents reported increases in their daily care workloads, compared to 57% of White respondents. In Canada, ethnic minority respondents were also more likely to indicate increases in care work than White respondents. Research by the Women’s Budget Group in the UK indicates that this may be likely due to Black, Asian and Ethnic minority families who are more likely to live in poverty, in larger families in multigenerational households, with lower access to childcare and health services as a result of “deep-seated and multi-faceted socio-economic inequalities linked to structural racism”.
These increased caring responsibilities have very real and long-term consequences for women’s health, economic security and wellbeing. It locks them into cycles of poverty and inequality, with less time to influence and affect social and political change.
- 43% of women surveyed across all five countries reported feeling more anxious, depressed, isolated, overworked, or ill because they have to shoulder even more unpaid care work as a result of the pandemic.
- 42% of women in the informal settlements of Kenya said they were unable to do their usual paid work as a direct result of increasing caring responsibilities during the pandemic.
While gender inequalities in care persist with women still doing a disproportionate amount of this work, men are spending more time on care work than they have before. This presents an important window of opportunity to encourage a shift in norms and policies to enable a transition to a more equitable distribution during and after the pandemic.
• Across the five countries, men reported their unpaid care work has increased during the pandemic ranging from an average of 36% of men interviewed in the UK and Canada, to 79% in the informal settlements of Nairobi.
Men are stepping up: Marino, father of four and a fisherman says his mind was opened and he came to the realization that men should be more involved in household chores. On a normal day, Marino does the cooking and laundry, as well as fetching water, so they could also frequently wash their hands.
• This increase in male participation in household work is likely caused by the lockdown leading men to see and even take part in aspects of house and care work that they usually do not. In the UK a third of men also said they would like to be involved in the care of their children once lockdown ends.
• However, it is unclear whether norms are shifting and to what extent this more equal sharing is real or perceived. For example, in the US, two-thirds (66%) of men report that they are cooking and cleaning as much as or more than women are, but only one-third (35%) of women agree.
People are doing their part in encouraging change: Pikwo Felly, a 55-year-old mother of eight is using the lock down period to encourage her sons to house chores and understand the value of helping at home. Read Pikwo Felly’s story.
This is a moment for change and governments need to act now
Right now, we have a historic opportunity to set things right and to enable an economic recovery that prioritizes the giving and receiving of care. One that takes advantage of this unique moment where men are participating in care work more than ever.
Men should be encouraged and supported to take up care roles now and in the future, and governments, private sector and communities should incentivize them to do so. As individuals, we need to make visible how we care and advocate for support for all parents and caregivers: we can start by joining the Promundo and Oxfam led #HowICare campaign.
Governments must also commit to a future path based on feminist thinking that prioritizes the voices of the most marginalized and build a more human economy that is feminist founded on the ethics of care.
This entry posted 22 June by:
Mara Bolis, Associate Director, Women’s Economic Rights in the Gender Justice & Inclusion Hub at Oxfam America
Anam Parvez Butt, Gender Justice Research Lead in the research team at Oxfam GB