Responses to the Care Crisis. UNFPA-SID meeting in Washington D.C.

UNFPA SID meeting in Washington, D.C. 28 July 2011 on care crisis.

SID together with UNFPA held a brainstorming meeting on responses to care crisis on July 28th in Washington, DC, just before the SID World Congress 2011. The care crisis is not new, but as Jacqueline Pitanguy from Brazil pointed out, the broader economic crisis is increasing women's work burden as the often invisible and uncounted work of care of the ill and the vulnerable in the family, community and society falls on women.

Yes women do this work, but as Wendy Harcourt editor of Development stated, the world cannot continue to rely on women to silently cope. Much more recognition and support is needed. With the upcoming 20 year review of ICPD held in Cairo 1994 there is an important strategic moment for the development community to revisit the importance of care and women's work at the crossroads of production and reproduction.

Cairo gave the development community much more than a programme of action. It represented a paradigmatic shift that put women at the centre of population health and development agendas. The participation of women around the world who ensure the strong gender focus means that Cairo belongs to all the world's women who put efforts and energies into making it happen as Jaqueline Pitanguy stressed.

The meeting underlined that we need to continue to build on the spirit of Cairo and ensure a strong gender focus among different issues like health, education, economic empowerment all of which inform the population and development agenda.

In speaking about care work and bringing it into development issues, it is important to link micro issues with the macro issues. Care is fundamental: people are cared by or take care of others, and this is not only about women mothers, wife, and professionals; this is also about health workers, women in rural villages and women migrant workers.

Care is also about women from the South providing care for families and societies in the North. As Angela Zarro from Italy argued, this often happens through informal channels, and in a sense is indicative of a major failure in the North in the delivery of public social services. Migrant women's crucial care work often remains invisible in the official data and whether this is heading to a greater emancipation and economic empowerment of women is not always predictable/obvious.

The meeting spoke about many issues from violence against women, women's empowerment, food security, sexuality and reproductive health, but in all care remains a fundamental and cross-cutting issue. Elisabeth Arendt from the US underlined that care and the gender equality agenda is framed within a human rights perspective which means that we need to look at care and gender equality not only from an economic perspective. In exploring the implications of this, the discussion also deepened an understanding of the concept of care in today's world.

Care is about bodies and sexuality and in this it is a crucial issue for understanding how to shift power relations among the genders, including understanding care in relation to masculinity and the different ways masculinity can shape and affect people today in all societies regardless of the culture and wealth.

Care is about family, culture, relationships but also about the role of citizens vis a vis the state. It relates to the way we organize ourselves in families and communities. We have traditionally looked at care work from the perspective of economics, migration, and international division of labour. Care is also about how to restructure the architecture of human relationships. Any research, data and indicators should provide a holistic view of how we can organize ourselves and our relationships.

Care is still absent from many political processes. In Kenya, Hulda Ouma points out, there it is no trace of it and this is also related to the other issue of where the resources go, and because of the financial crisis, resources are rationed sharply, and this is like a care crisis amplified. We need to make sure that the money are related to the needs. It is an issue of accountability.

As Shobha Raghuram from India pointed out care should be taken as a fundamental pillar of the unfinished agenda of sustainable development, not only to advocate for major financing but principally to fight the increasing silence about gender equality.


Compiled by Angela Zarro