Care work consists of several overlapping activities: direct, personal and relational activities; indirect activities such as cooking and cleaning; activities that fill the macroeconomic investment gaps such as fetching of water, firewood etc; looking after children, aged and ill in the absence of accessible, affordable and universal health and social infrastructure. The multiplicity and simultaneity of activities carried out by women and also men involve a wide circle of paid work – underpaid work – paid care work – underpaid care work – unpaid care work: each impacts the other in tandem with and across not only employment but also livelihoods as well as sustainable living.
In developed countries, women spend on an average around twice the time on unpaid care work compared to men. In developing countries, this ratio is roughly three times (ILO report Women at Work: Trends 2016). In India, using a time use survey report for 2019, a recent study indicates that women in the working age category of 15- 60 years spend 7.2 hours on unpaid domestic work compared to 2.8 hours spent by men. Moreover, even wage-earning women spend twice the amount of time on unpaid domestic work in comparison to wage-earning men. One of the serious consequences of the highly unequal distribution of unpaid care between men and women is reflected in women’s disempowerment in the labour market, i.e. their inferior status in the labour market and in all labour market outcomes (e.g., participation, wages, upward and horizontal mobility, employment status, and diversification). Women in low-income settings struggle to balance paid work with unpaid care work. A report by ILO (2018) uses data from 126 time-use surveys carried out in 75 countries and finds that unpaid work accounts for around half of total work. The result of this is time poverty and a double burden, which can lead to mental and physical depletion. There is also a risk of a care deficit, leaving children in low-quality care or resulting in young girls caring for siblings. The demand for care work is expected to jump by 2030 in low and middle-income countries, where the demographic transition will lead to a higher proportion of the elderly depending on the working-age population. With increasing episodes of climate change and also decline in requisite and relevant state investment, women’s unpaid work in farming, gathering water and fuel is growing even more.
Even in the case of paid care work, women comprise the majority of the workforce, as the prevailing gendered division of labour considers this as an extension of the work women perform at home. This is reflected in the low remuneration given to Anganwadi and ASHA workers despite the fact that they provide the most crucial form of paid care work in India. Recent research carried out by IHD and ILO indicate that that in order to achieve the policy targets by 2030, India will need to generate approximately 22.7 million new jobs in the care sector, comprising 10.2 million in education and 12.5 million in health. More than half of these newly created jobs will be generated for women, accounting for approximately 55% (around 12.4 million). This will not only offer more employment opportunities for women but also contribute to reducing the gender gap in employment.
The resulting imbalances within the gendered work continuum leads to increasing dependence on women’s underpaid work to substitute unpaid work to fill gaps in public expenditure and ‘genderless’ macroeconomic policies and to meet the demand of the care economy in the context of growing socio-economic inequalities among women themselves. An additional linkage relates to discriminatory social institutions and stereotypes on gender roles, and increasingly the issue of intersectionality.
A multi-pronged thrust for adequate investment and policy attention towards the care sector is essential. One, by adequate and appropriate investments in all components of the care economy including physical and social infrastructure to reduce the overall care burden, accompanied by social policies that help to redistribute intra-household care work. Second, to tap into the immense potential this sector has to provide and improve job and career prospects and to also increase female labour force participation. Third, by implementing policy and programme interventions for women and also men such as maternity and paternity benefits, flexible hours, crèches and day-care centres with timings that take into account both paid and unpaid work, etc.
The intersecting role of various institutions in supporting women’s care responsibilities must be additionally understood in order to improve their access to paid work and also well-being. The care diamond is a helpful tool to look at the organization of care between the market, government, civil society and the household. This not only considers women’s role both outside and within the household, but also the role of paid caregivers who perform essential tasks in the labour market and should have decent conditions and remuneration. Understanding and analysing how care gets distributed among these institutions will also be an area of interest for labour economists, including the role of private actors, both household and non-household, as well as civil society institutions.
Integrated with the morphology of production and reproduction are the opposite yet apposite interconnects between various structures that go beyond the formal and informal, the organised and the unorganised. Central therefore is the extent of interdependence or not between the systems of production, reproduction and ownership of resources, incorporating exchange-value as well as use-value beyond the market – non-market binary, including the intermeshing of the two that lie at the cusp.
Guidelines on Conference Themes for Prospective Contributors
The guidelines on the conference themes are suggestive only. The prospective paper writers may contribute on other relevant sub-themes as well. Apart from contributions on India, papers relating to other regions and countries are also welcome. Papers can be from different theoretical perspectives, as can be the use of different empirical methodologies (e.g. quantitative, qualitative, case-oriented or mixed). Submission of original work that contributes to the advancement of existing knowledge and debates on the topic are encouraged.