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Unpaid Care Work, Women’s Rights and Poverty: Human Rights Council Side Event Features Two UNRISD Panellists

20 Sep 2013

Unpaid Care Work, Women’s Rights and Poverty: Human Rights Council Side Event Features Two UNRISD Panellists
UNRISD Director Sarah Cook and Visiting Research Fellow Magdalena Sepúlveda were panellists at a discussion titled Unpaid Care Work, Women’s Rights and Poverty: Making the Connection on 18 September 2013, at the United Nations, Geneva. Ms. Sepúlveda, who is the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights in addition to her role at UNRISD, officially supported the event, co-organized by women’s NGOs Associations Points-Coeur and Make Mothers Matter International.

The event featured other high-level panellists from the United Nations and from civil society: Jane Hodges (Director, ILO Bureau for Gender Equality); Christian Courtis (Human Rights and Economic and Social Issues Section, OHCHR); and Valérie Bichelmeier (President of UN Delegation, Make Mothers Matter International). The panel discussion was chaired by the Ambassador of Finland, Her Excellency Ms Päivi Kairamo, and was organized as a side event at the 24th session of the Human Rights Council.

Unpaid care work as a major human rights issue

The meeting discussed why unpaid care work is a major human rights issue: the unequal distribution of unpaid care work undermines the dignity of women caregivers; makes them more vulnerable to poverty; and prevents them from enjoying their rights—to work, to education, to health, to social security and to participation on an equal basis with men.

Panellists proposed strategies for the better recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work, as an important step towards the better realization of women’s human rights.

In her intervention, Sarah Cook highlighted the fundamental importance of care as a development issue. It underpins economic growth and productivity, equity and social cohesion, but the cost of providing care is unequally borne, whether by gender, class or other lines of inequality. While much is known about the issue, getting care onto policy agendas has been a challenge, she said, because unpaid work and care are marginalized in mainstream economic thinking, and because the women’s movement has failed to mobilize around this agenda. Moving forward requires commitments from States as well as active social movements to ensure that resources are put behind the policies and investments that work, including universally accessible, good-quality provisions for public goods that contribute to care (water, sanitation, transport, education, health care, childcare, etc.).

Despite considerable research on care, emanating largely from the disciplines of feminist economics and social policy, the subject has rarely been tackled from a human rights perspective. Establishing and strengthening the links across disciplines will help to push forward this agenda, and to ground policies in the recognition and guarantee of the rights of caregivers and receivers; a fair distribution of the costs of care across society; and support for professional, decently paid and compassionate forms of care.

In her role as UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda will report to the UN General Assembly in October 2013 on how unpaid care work impacts on women’s poverty and inequality. Her report positions unpaid care work as a major human rights issue. Focusing on women caregivers, particularly those living in poverty, the Special Rapporteur argues that heavy and unequal care responsibilities are a major barrier to gender equality and to women’s equal enjoyment of human rights, and, in many cases, condemn women to poverty. Therefore, the failure of States to adequately provide, fund, support and regulate care contradicts their human rights obligations, by creating and exacerbating inequalities and threatening women’s rights enjoyment. Her report includes recommendations to States on how to meet their human rights obligations with regard to unpaid care, bringing some much needed policy influence to bear on an issue which has so far been difficult to place on national and international agendas.

For information on UNRISD’s research on Political and Social Economy of Care, visit www.unrisd.org/gd/care

The Special Rapporteur’s work on unpaid care and women’s human rights is described at www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/UnpaidWork.aspx

Click here to read the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (A/68/293), prepared for the 68th session of the UN General Assembly.

Photo: UN Photo