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Can Investing in the Care Economy Alleviate Gender Disparities Across the Globe?

Updated: Nov 16, 2023

This article is part of the series of posts by writers from partner publications of the Warwick Economics Summit. This piece was written by Julieth Lara, a Foreign Affairs writer for the Sundial Press, Sciences Po Reims' student-run media outlet. More articles by Julieth and other Sundial Press writers can be read at https://www.sundialpress.co/category/foreignaffairs/ .


From birth to death — from a mother tending to her child’s needs to a nurse caring for an elderly patient — care is a fundamental aspect of our lives. Care is not merely a virtue but an essential force that plays a dual role in shaping our world. On one hand, it is the foundation of human well-being as it assures our physical and emotional sustenance. On the other hand, care also serves as the cornerstone of a sustainable economy.


What is care work? At its core, care work encompasses various forms such as education, personal care of dependents, and domestic responsibility. It serves as a vital thread in looking after the various needs of those who require support and championship.


However, according to the International Labor Organization, 76 percent of global unpaid care work is performed by women. This inequity perpetuates gender gaps in the labor market, particularly in care and educational occupations that continue to be female-dominated fields, in which women account for 64.7 percent and 54 percent of employees respectively. These fields are characterised by low wages and poor working conditions, resulting in an inadequate care infrastructure that has led to a lack of women’s participation in the workplace. Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic has further revealed how underinvestment in care has hurt families and cost millions of women their jobs. These disparities continue to worsen in countries with a growing demand for child and elder care.



The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap 2023 Report underscores the urgency of creating a strong care economy, which essentially means creating jobs and protections for workers to ensure they have the support needed to obtain these quality jobs. According to the report, no country has yet to achieve full gender parity and, at the current rate of progress, it will take 141 years for all tested countries to reach full parity, emphasising the need to improve current care systems to address these disparities. Yet, there exist varied perspectives on how to invest in the care economy on a global scale.


To turn the report’s insights into concrete action, WEF itself has developed the Gender Parity Accelerator model for public-private collaboration. The accelerator aims at tackling structural issues that promote pay transparency, enhance the quality of work, and create leadership opportunities that are aimed at boosting women’s employment opportunities. The accelerator has been implemented in various countries, like Chile, Egypt, Jordan, Japan, and Kazakhstan, where CEOs and government officials collaborate to design policies targeting economic gender gaps within a 3-year timeframe. All country accelerators are part of a wider ecosystem — the Global Learning Network — that facilitates the exchange of experiences and insights to implement changes.


Emily Kos, a Managing Director and Partner of Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in the United States, points out that 75% of paid care positions in the country are held by women. To rectify this imbalance, investment in the economy should be directed towards improving wages, working conditions, and clinical opportunities that allow the workforce to be more accessible for women. Without such improvements, the U.S. stands to lose 290 billion USD by 2030.


While there are efforts to improve the care economy, gender disparities continue to persist worldwide. Women spend 3.2 times more hours on unpaid care work globally than men, but women across Asia and Oceania spend up to 4 times more hours. In India, an increase in domestic work presents major barriers to women’s labor participation, especially for mothers who have children younger than 5 years old. These women face restrictive options regarding the hours, location, and type of work available to them, meaning addressing this issue through investment in the healthcare economy could generate over 20 percent more job opportunities for women in the country.


Some countries have taken active steps to mitigate gender disparities in the care economy. There has been promise in Cambodia, with its “National Strategic Development Plan,'' which has made progress in rehabilitating rural roads from provincial to village levels. The improvements in rural road infrastructure have allowed women to have better access to employment opportunities. In the Republic of Korea, the Ministry of Employment and Labor allowed employees with children to reduce their working hours during the Covid-19 pandemic, providing up to five days of leave along with childcare support.


As steps are being taken by some countries to invest in care as a means to reduce gender inequalities, these actions underscore the imperativeness of building a strong care economy. Key stakeholders, including the WEF, have recognised the need for reform, with various strategies emerging to improve working conditions, pay standards, and leadership opportunities for women. These are essential not only for gender parity but to also enhance economic engagement in developing regions. Ultimately, investment in the care economy is an investment in women.


The views and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Warwick Economics Summit.

 

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