Credit: UN Women
By Lan Mercado, Mohammad Naciri, and Yamini Mishra
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 5 2020 (IPS)
COVID-19 has brought the world to a halt. Nations, businesses,
and schools have closed, and billions are confined to their homes.
Yet millions of care workers step out daily to keep the lights on
and support those in need.
The majority of them are women – nurses, community health
workers, sanitation workers, and others. They earn little and are
grossly undervalued despite keeping our society and economy
Other forms of care – looking after families, cooking,
cleaning, and fetching water aren’t paid at all. This
‘invisible’ work contributes over US$10.8 trillion a year to
the global economy, and before COVID-19, women and girls provided
12.5 billion hours of free care work every day.
On average, women spend over 4 hours for every hour men spend on
care work in Asia and the Pacific – over 4 times as much. Women
spend nearly 11 times in Cambodia and Pakistan, 10 times in India,
and 3 times in Bangladesh, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Yet, when Asia launched Covid-19 responses and stimulus
packages, women and care work’s amiss. This callous
neglect is a result of prioritizing the economy above everything
else, compounded by social norms that undervalue care work and
leave the burden to women and girls.
Care work, with no pay, has deprived women and girls of
education, skill development, and gainful employment. It has left
women with precarious jobs, insecure incomes, and no social safety.
The pandemic has multiplied the load on care systems, already
depleted and unfair, falling mostly on women.
Lockdowns have increased child and elderly care for
With schools shut in 188 countries,1.5 billion students and over
63 million primary teachers are confined to their homes. Social
gender norms have left women and girls spending more time caring
and providing educational support to children.
Older people are at greater risk to COVID-19, and in Asia, where
elderly often live with their children, women will shoulder the
responsibility for looking after them.
Times of uncertainty and disease worsens inequalities
By default, women are more likely to be in poorly paid jobs at
the lowest ends of value chains without a chance at education or
building skills. With a looming global depression, they are likely
to be the first fired and last re-hired.
There’s a high risk of losing fragile yet meaningful gains
made in formal workforces – limiting women’s ability to support
themselves and families, especially for female-headed
80 percent of world’s domestic workers are women. Uncertainty
looms for many domestic workers who travel internationally from the
Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and
Women send US$300 billion home yearly, half of total global
remittances. Migrant women losing jobs due to restrictions will hit
their families back home.
As caregivers, women face higher risks from
Globally, 70% of poorly paid health care workers are women –
in frontlines – often without training or proper safety
equipment. In China’s Hubei province, 90% of health workers are
Each ASHA community health worker from India’s Panjab visits
at least 25 homes a day to screen suspected patients; majority
without safety equipment, training, and testing, and COVID-19 cases
are rising among them.
Within homes too, women hold the main responsibility of care for
patients discharged from hospitals or placed in quarantine at
Women and girls, locked-down in their homes, are facing
escalating domestic violence – likely stuck with their abusers.
Life-saving support to survivors from front-line services, such as
heath, police, and social welfare may be slow or at a halt
altogether as they are overburdened.
We need to act now to protect women and girls and
recognize care work that is sustaining us through this
of all including caregivers from COVID -19. The
governments must invest in information, training, and safety
equipment. All caregivers – whether at homes or hospitals –
need access to testing, treatment, and health care. When a vaccine
or treatment is available, it must be accessible and affordable to
all including women and girls living in poverty.
• Care workers including unpaid carers must have social
protection. Employers -government or business – must
support childcare for all who need it. Cash aid to those with
livelihoods hit must be enough for a decent living – especially
for those kept away from jobs due to care burdens. International
lenders and governments must make social protection a priority in
• Businesses must respect human rights and be responsible
for workers. While at work, all workers must have safety
equipment to protect themselves. Flexible working hours, paid
leave, and work from home will ease the extra burdens pandemic has
created – especially for the care workers.
Looking beyond, as we build anew our broken economies and
societies, we must reduce, redistribute, and represent care work
once and for all:
inclusive Regional Action Groups to develop regional and national
policies to recognize, reduce, and redistribute unpaid and
underpaid care work. These policies must be backed up by resource
and infrastructure investment to create secure and decent care work
• We must professionalize care work and create
women’s social enterprises to help care workers transition to
decent work through training, education, and certification.
Finally, we must promote healthier social norms on care
work, share care work equally, mobilize public support,
and call for flexible work arrangements to balance work and family
“Women’s Unpaid and Underpaid Work in the Times of Covid-19:
Move towards a new care-compact to rebuild a gender equal Asia,”
an online brief/blog by the three agencies detailing issues and
recommendation in depth will be made available on the 1st of June
Lan Mercado is the Regional Director for Oxfam
in Asia; Mohammad Naciri is the Regional Director
for UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific;
Yamini Mishra is the Director, Global Issues
Programme for Amnesty International — International
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Covid-19: Caring for Care Workers