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UNRISD Podcast: From Global Economic Crisis to Care Economy Crisis

16 Jun 2009



16 June 2009 – In this episode, UNRISD researchers talk about the new comparative UNRISD study on the care economy: the care issues in the South and how the financial crisis could affect the care economy.

Please use the link to the right of this page to access the podcast. (5mins 53secs, MP3 file, 1.34mb)

Transcript of the podcast:

Mei Yan: You are listening to the UNRISD podcast, and my name is Mei Yan. Today’s episode features a ground-breaking UNRISD comparative study on the care economy. UNRISD has been carrying out this research project since 2006.

Shahra Razavi is research coordinator for the UNRISD programme on Gender and Development. She will present the key research findings at an annual conference of Women in Development Europe, WIDE, from 18th to 20th June at the University of Basel in Switzerland. The conference will also dedicate one day to the UNRISD research project as a starting point to understand more about the dimensions, organization, gender composition and power dynamics of the care economy.

Razavi explains that the novelty of the UNRISD research was in taking the academics and activists’ debates on the care economy within the context of more developed countries to developing countries. Therefore, the main contribution of the study is to see how relevant and pertinent of these are to the realities in the South.

Shahra Razavi: What the UNRISD project brought in was that it took some of the same questions, but tried to answer them and interrogate them taking on board the realities in the South.

I think the main contribution of the project will be in terms of showing through the country level research what these realties are in the South, and how care questions need to be reformulated and responses will vary as well to those questions because conditions are so different.

Mei Yan: UNRISD has commissioned the country-level studies in six countries in the South, including India, Nicaragua, Tanzania, South Africa, Argentina and South Korea.

One of the important arguments that Razavi and the UNRISD research team have raised is that care needs to be considered as a lens or a perspective, which means that the care issues require approaches within economic, social and political structures.

Shahra Razavi: I think that point really came out very strongly, precisely because of looking at contexts which made a sector-based view of care rather limited.

Mei Yan: Razavi points out that some assumptions in the North, such as developed care infrastructure and services, could not be adopted in developing countries.

Shahra Razavi: We cannot make the same assumptions in many Southern contexts. So therefore, I think the question becomes also of raising the sector-based views and demands which are about having services etc. But also thinking more broadly about really what comes down to being a development question.

Mei Yan: Therefore, it is crucial to look at the care economy and care work issues beyond sector views, and rethink the way economic and social systems are organized, rather than achieving the economic growth single-mindedly.

Shahra Razavi: Rather than always seeing it as a cost, but really think about how would you re-do the whole economic and social system and priorities. I think an issue that speaks to people who work on care in very different contexts as well, they need to go beyond the sector view.

Mei Yan: Meanwhile, in the current global economic downturn, this research on the care economy could not be more timely. UNRISD research analyst Silke Staab is pleased that the issue of care has been put on the agenda.

Silke Staab: Feminists around the world have tried to use this crisis as well to put the care issue on the agenda, by saying the same factors that produced now this huge economic crisis have been there all along, and they have produced the crisis in care for a long time, that has been absorbed by households, by women’s unpaid labour.

Mei Yan: Tina Goethe is Policy Adviser to Food Sovereignty at SWISSAID and a WIDE Board member. She agrees that the scope of the care economy could be easily neglected by policy makers, because some people take it for granted that care work is only about household chores.

Tina Goethe: To understand that formal and informal, paid and unpaid care work is actually a huge part of the society and the economy. We have to include the care economy in the political debate and economic debate, because up till now it is completely neglected from the decision makers.

Mei Yan: Razavi thinks that although it is still too early to say how exactly this particular crisis will affect the care economy, experience from previous crises tells us that when people were laid off in huge numbers and different industries were affected, there could be worst case scenario in developing countries.

Shahra Razavi: There is also a push factor, women are pushed into the labour market, even for women who are not previously so called “economically active”, and they have to stay there and take on more casual and less remunerated work, because the male breadwinners wages are not coming in, because formal work becomes less accessible. So we probably are going to see an intensification of informal, casual work which is also very time-consuming. So that is going to have implications for the care economy.

Mei Yan: Razavi adds that as social services budgets are cut, the care economy could also be exposed to more risks.

Shahra Razavi: Often there has been a pressure, a fiscal pressure, and states have had to retrench on some of the public services that are available. This is going to have a detrimental effect on households. Unless there is greater fiscal space and unless efforts are made not to make those cuts in the welfare budgets, in the public sector budgets. But that we will have to wait and see where that will be possible.

Mei Yan: In the meantime, two edited volumes and a final book on the UNRISD research findings will be published in 2010.

For more information, go to our website, www.unrisd.org. If you have any suggestions for future podcasts, email us at press@unrisd.org. Thank you for listening.

For UNRISD news, this is Mei Yan, in Geneva.