COVID-19 Op-ed

Reducing the weight on women’s shoulders

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Mark Vincent AranasMark is a
communications lead at Oxfam. His work centers on responsible business
practices, inclusive value chains, and women’s economic empowerment in Asia.
Oxfam is an international confederation of 20 humanitarian and development
organizations working in more than 90 countries. Read more from Mark Vincent
Aranas: “Who is caring for our ‘invisible’ carers?” (1 April 2020)

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening our already unequal and
sexist economy. At the bottom of the economic pyramid lie 36 million people
in Southeast Asia who are living below the poverty line (UNDP, 2017) (USD
1.90 a day) — many of whom are women and girls with no access to health care
or any form of social protection to shield them from COVID-19.On top of this,
women and girls are responsible for over 75% of all unpaid care and domestic
work globally. In Asia and the Pacific, this means women spend at least four
times more time doing unpaid care work than men (ILO, 2018.) Women’s care
responsibilities, such as laundry and childcare, increase even further in
low-income settings, where essential infrastructure and public services are
lacking (Hall, 2020.) These are compounded by gendered expectations that
women should be the primary carers for the sick or for the quarantined in the
absence of enough hospital beds and access to critical medical and social
services.The need to address unequal division of unpaid care and domestic
work to reignite progress on gender equality has permeated across various
development spaces, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development
(UNGA, 2015) where unpaid care work appears as one of the targets under Goal
5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls). Oxfam’s estimates
also show that women’s unpaid care work alone is adding value to the economy
by at least USD 10.8 trillion a year, a figure three times larger than the
global tech industry (Lawson,, 2020.)Considering that the wheels of our
economy and society keep turning at the expense of the largely undocumented
and unaccounted unpaid care work of women and girls, a right-based approach
that responds to the differentiated and gendered impacts of the pandemic
should animate proposed solutions and interventions. We must ensure that we
are not replicating inequalities or increasing women’s unpaid care
workloads.Going beyond, we must integrate approaches to transform
longstanding traditional social norms on gendered roles. Decisions that
affect the public health and economic systems in Southeast Asia and elsewhere
in the world must likewise involve women and girls, and incorporate messages
that recognize, reduce, and redistribute the unpaid care work that they do,
day in day out. Only then will we be able to tilt the balance for women and
girls.References:Hall, S.
2020. Addressing unpaid care to close gender gaps in the Philippines and
Zimbabwe. Oxfam:
Labour Organization. 2018. Care work and care jobs for the future of decent
M., A. Parvez-Butt, R. Harvey, D. Sarosi, C. Coffey, K. Piaget, and J.
Thekkudan. 2020. Time to care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global
inequality crisis. Oxfam Inequality Report:
Nations Development Programme. 2017. Financing the Sustainable Development
Goals in ASEAN: Strengthening integrated national financing frameworks to
deliver the 2030 Agenda:
Nations General Assembly. 2015. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development:

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