The future of work with its challenges and opportunities associated with technological developments has garnered a lot of attention, while care work and all those who do care work are often invisible and are hardly considered in debates. Women with care responsibilities are more likely to work in the informal economy, are self-employed and are less likely to contribute to social security and be covered by social protection. Care work is often not seen as “real work”. Involving women’s perspectives is key to making debates more inclusive.
A group of feminist researchers from throughout the Asia-Pacific region convened in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to develop ideas and think of innovations in the care economy in Asia. As part of the FES regional project “Women and the Future of Work in Asia”, they discussed policy measures to tackle the huge disparity between women’s and men’s care responsibilities.
Working group members Demona Khoo and Herni Ramdlaningrum from Myanmar and Indonesia highlighted that the concept of the “economy of care” still needs to be better defined in their countries in order to discuss and propose solutions. In general, a rather narrow understanding of work that divides labour into economic activities in the market and in the home is still dominant and neglects how care sustains the economy at large. Without this maintenance and organizing of resources and people, other economic activities would halt.
According to the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) report “Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work”, unpaid care work is the main barrier preventing women from getting into, remaining in and progressing within the labour force. In 2018, 606 million working-age women said that they were not able to do so because of unpaid care work. Calling for doubled investment in the care economy, the ILO report shows how the care crisis is further exacerbated by the retreat of the state, low and stagnating wages and an ageing population. This is also true for many societies in Asia.
The group identified a wealth of ideas to address the care crisis, ranging from expansion of social services, housing, paternity leave, allocation of monetary value to unpaid work, development of technologies that take over household chores, making employers accountable for work-family balance and non-gender stereotyping in jobs, as well as adherence to core labour and decent work standards in the care sector. The group will present their innovative outputs and discuss their findings at the FES Asia Care Summit, to be held in the spring of 2020 in Kathmandu, Nepal.
In Ulaanbaatar the group visited a care facility, the Achlalt Huuhduud Project, the first of its kind in Mongolia, which looks after people in need who do not have family members to care for them. The FES visitors discussed care challenges in Mongolia with the shelter’s founder Mr Saranbaatar and representatives of the ministry for labour and social affairs. Until the 1990s, care work in Mongolia was historically dealt with within families; unemployment rates were low and the traditional gender roles were not questioned. “Today, Mongolia does not have the infrastructure and relevant policies to lift the care burden off women, who are the main unpaid care givers”, explains Oyungerel Chogdon, FES Project Manager in Ulaanbaatar. She stresses that new policies are needed and that care work should be recognised as work by society and government.
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