Rising inequality: Women billions of hours unpaid care work

By Hamid Khan Wazir

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: The economic inequality is out of control as today our economies are shaped to favour few wealthy elites that are accumulating massive wealth and power. In 2019, the world’s billionaires, only 2,153 people, had more wealth than 4.6 billion people. This great divide is based on a flawed and sexist economic system that values the wealth of the privileged few, mostly men, more than the billions of hours of the most essential work – the unpaid and underpaid care work done primarily by women and girls around the world.

Tending to others, cooking, cleaning, fetching water and firewood are essential daily tasks for the wellbeing of societies, communities and the functioning of the economy. The heavy and unequal responsibility of care work perpetuates gender and economic inequalities. It would take a Pakistani minimum wage worker 638 years to earn what a national bank CEO earns in a year. It is a well-known fact that despite being the backbone of informal workers’ families, the poorest of poor in the world are women workers.

If women do not have access to affordable care services, they have to shoulder the care responsibilities of the family, and either reduce their number of work hours and thus income or entrust the elder children with this responsibility –thereby compromising their education. Poor women workers do not only contribute to their family and national economy, but also to natural ecology. Therefore, Oxfam believes that care work should be considered as skilled work and paid at par with other skilled work. Organizing care workers, building their capacity, designing proper curriculum and training to improve the quality of their services, certification and enabling policies for care givers would bring dignity and self-respect to these workers, and also set standards for the care economy.

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Oxfam launched its global report on inequality and unpaid care work titled – “Time to Care” Oxfam in Pakistan’s Country Director, Mohammad Qazilbash referencing to the report stated, “Today’s extreme wealth is also founded on sexism. Our economic system was built by rich and powerful men, who continue to make the rules and reap the lion’s share of the benefit. Every day the gap between rich and poor is widening which if ignored will create more economic burden on the poor especially women and girls. Tending to others, cooking, cleaning, fetching water and firewood are essential daily tasks for the wellbeing of societies, communities and the functioning of the economy. The heavy and unequal responsibility of care work perpetuates gender and economic inequalities. Never have we faced such an opportunity for welcoming and valuing the work of millions of care workers in the mainstream economy, be it formal or informal. The government of Pakistan must act now to build a human economy that is feminist and values what truly matters to society.”

Women do more than three-quarters of all unpaid care work. They often have to work reduced hours or drop out of the workforce because of their care workload. Across the globe, 42 percent of women cannot get jobs because they are responsible for all the caregiving, compared to just six percent of men.

Women also make up two-thirds of the paid ‘care workforce’. Jobs such as nursery workers, domestic workers, and care assistants are often poorly paid, provide scant benefits, impose irregular hours, and can take a physical and emotional toll.

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Oxfam’s report, shows how economies are fueling the inequality crisis — enabling a wealthy elite to accumulate vast fortunes at the expense of ordinary people and particularly poor women and girls. The report shows governments are massively under-taxing the wealthiest individuals and corporations and underfunding vital public services and infrastructure that could help reduce women and girls’ workload. For example, investments in water and sanitation, education, childcare, healthcare could free up women’s time and improve their quality of life.