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Back | Programme Area: Gender and Development (2000 - 2009)

Harmonizing Global Care Policy? Care and the Commission on the Status of Women

In March 2009 Member States of the United Nations met in New York at the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) to discuss, among other things, the priority theme of “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS”. This meeting provided an unprecedented opportunity to focus the international community’s attention on care issues and to generate Agreed Conclusions that would lay out a roadmap for care policy, potentially influencing national legislation, policies adopted by UN entities and future international agreements. Using interviews with participants and an overview of official documentation, this paper seeks to summarize the achievements of the 2009 CSW, and to suggest where policy conversations about care might usefully focus next.

More specifically, the paper aims to contribute to three key objectives: (i) identify the narrative(s) of how the policy frame of equal sharing of responsibilities, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS, came into being; (ii) identify the policy alliances generated through that frame; and (iii) identify the key achievements forged at the 53rd session, while examining what the Agreed Conclusions might make possible to say and do around care issues in the future. In this way it aims to provide a supportive and critical examination of the emerging global policy agenda on care issues as crystallized in the meetings around the 2009 CSW.

With regard to the achievements, the paper argues that the frame of care, linked as it was to the equal sharing of responsibility between men and women, proved an exceptionally expansive one. It successfully united a wide range of actors, including conservative faith-based actors who had mobilized against other gender equality initiatives in the past. This expansive frame facilitated three key advances in care policy at the 53rd session: (i) consensus among Member States and other actors on the significance of care across the UN system, especially in relation to HIV; (ii) consensus on a strong state responsibility; and (iii) consensus on the centrality of care-givers’ participation in debates over policy. These advances may prove significant in increasing attention to care within the United Nations, defending care services from state cutbacks in a recession, and helping civil society actors mobilize around care, especially as related to HIV. In addition, the agreements made at the 2009 CSW may represent the emergence of a new consensus around the importance of economic justice issues in gender equality venues, given the foregrounding of state services and the challenge to free-market models of growth witnessed there.

In an attempt to consider where care conversations might usefully focus next, the paper closes with a discussion of two issues that received less attention at the 2009 CSW: disability and diversity of family formation. These two issues are highly relevant to care debates, at the UN level and elsewhere, and can help move global policy forward in fruitful directions. That said, policy conversations will need to be reframed to take them into account. This task will in some ways challenge the consensus on care forged at the 2009 CSW. For example, the progress made in carrying forward the global gender equality project via a unifying focus on care is in part based on a consensus about care-givers as the central actors, a position challenged by disability activism and scholarship. Likewise, the agreements forged at the 2009 CSW in many ways entrenched the notion that privatized nuclear family units were a universally desirable model for care provision, a notion challenged by a range of actors who recognize the role of extended family members in care, and/or who want to secure more support for the diverse forms through which care is provided. A reframing of care debates will be necessary if new alliances with such actors are to be forged and strengthened. While the paper seeks to explicate the immense value of the Agreed Conclusions forged at the 2009 CSW for future efforts to secure care services, it also aims to explore the limitations of those agreements and highlight the importance of continuing the conversation on care to grapple with current exclusions.

Kate Bedford is a Lecturer and Research Fellow at the Kent Law School (University of Kent) in the United Kingdom.
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  • Pub. Date: 3 Mar 2010
    ISSN: 1994-8026