Recognizing the value of care work

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After participating in a care program in the Philippines, Rowena Abeo, a daycare teacher and mother of three, says that her husband took on a fair share of household work. Photo: Jed Regala/Oxfam

How Oxfam's Women's Economic Empowerment and Care program reduces and redistributes unpaid work and domestic care on a global scale.

This story was originally published in Oxfam's 2022 Annual Report. Read the Annual Report.

One of the major issues the pandemic illuminated is how undervalued care work is, and how much of the responsibility for this essential work falls on women and girls. Even before the pandemic, 42 percent of women globally were unable to find employment because they were responsible for all household caregiving, compared with 6 percent of men. Unpaid and underpaid care work perpetuate inequalities, limiting women and girls' opportunities in all aspects of life.

Oxfam has seen how investments in care, from awareness of gender norms to advocacy for policy and an infrastructure around care, improve the well-being of those provide and those who receive care. In 2013, Oxfam launched a Women's Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-CARE) initiative and developed tools and methodologies, such as the Rapid Care Analysis and Household Care Survey, to measure Unpaid Care and Domestic Work (UCDW) in Women's Economic Empowerment and livelihoods programs. The tools assess household responsibilities and patterns around care, and then work with communities to create solutions that address perceptions of UCDW and provide tools to reduce and redistribute care work.

In 2014, a full-fledged program launched to apply these learnings, developing interventions for women's empowerment that were embedded within programs in 10 countries, including Colombia, Ethiopia, Malawi, the Philippines, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. In 2016, through a partnership with the Unilever and Surf brands, we made major investments in water and laundry infrastructure in the Philippines and Zimbabwe. Within two years, with greater access to water points and laundry facilities, program participants reported having more time to spend on activities of their choice, including paid work.

One unanticipated outcome of this programming was improved relationships between household members. Rowena Abeo, a daycare teacher in the Philippines and mother of three, told us that balancing her job and the majority of household duties had left her exhausted. Rowena and her husband began attending WE-CARE seminars, which encourage men and boys to do their fair share of household work. Now Abeo's husband cooks, cleans, and watches their children while she's at work. "Our relationship as a family became better," she said. "We're happier."

Subsequent phases built a stronger evidence base, influenced policy change, and provided leadership in Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, the Philippines and Pan-Africa. In the latest phase of the program (Phase IV), we have made strides in policy advancement. For example, in Ethiopia, Oxfam and partners provided recommendations to the government's 10-year plan, which led to investment in care infrastructure, such as the establishment of day care centers. In 2023 and beyond, WE-CARE is deepening its work and focusing on broader system change on care.

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