ECLAC – Economic Policies Must Consider Unpaid Work of Women – Need Data

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“With thanks to our Advisory Board member, futurist Rosa Alegria”

ECLAC – United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, has 44 member States and 8 non-independent territories in the Caribbean, and reports to the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). It is one of five regional commissions under the administrative direction of United Nations headquarters.

ECLAC – Economic Policies Must Consider Unpaid Work of Women – Need Data

Photo: Carlos Vera/ECLAC

Unpaid work of women represents a significant percentage of GDP in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, but very few countries manage to assess and evaluate it. Given the lack of statistics on time dedicated to care work, this area goes widely unnoticed and has become an “invisible giant”. Therefore it is not considered in many public policies.

However, the situation in the region is gradually changing thanks to efforts made by feminist groups, study centres and governments, which have been incorporating measures to make this phenomenon more widely known and give it due importance in economies.

Distinguished international experts analysed this issue at the conference entitled “The political economy of gender equality”, which was held at ECLAC headquarters on 1 December 2011.

During the opening of the meeting, Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of this regional commission of the United Nations, highlighted the importance of making progress so that the political economy of gender equality penetrates all sectors of society and is established as a key element of macroeconomic policies.

“It is important to break the statistical silence so that the real time which women dedicate to care work (of children, old persons and disabled) is made known,” she said. “Much progress has been made, but there is still much to do… The conceptions of gender must permeate all State public policies,” she stressed.

María Ángeles Durán, Professor from the Centre for Human and Social Sciences of the Institute for Economics, Geography and Demography of Spain, stated that not enough investment has been made to measure the “enormous effort in terms of work time” which women have made outside the market.

“Macroeconomic analysis must be changed completely. It must include resources which are not valued, such as unpaid work of women,” she said.

For example, she said that in Spain these jobs would represent 53% of GDP if they were included in official measurements. In this way, she was in favour of incorporating the time variable into public policies and services, such as transport and health.

Devaki Jain, Economist of the Institute of Social Studies Trust of India, also highlighted the importance of unpaid work of women. “We believe that women can generate growth through unpaid work,” she declared.

She carried out an analysis of the situation following the global crisis (2008), in which South-South cooperation has gained great importance. “Now is the time for economic and social democracy and this means considering women’s ideas on how to rebuild the world,” she declared.

“Gender equality cannot be achieved by itself. It must form part of economic policies and change the very meaning of these policies,” she stated.

Indira Hirway, Director from the Center for Development Alternatives, India, carried out a comprehensive analysis of the concept of unpaid work and how it affects the well-being of societies and economies in general.

She explained that unpaid work subsidizes the market economy, since it reduces the cost of work and the funds allocated for wages, and at the same time it raises earnings and accumulation. “If unpaid work did not exist, employers would have to pay higher salaries to their workers, therefore, reducing their earnings,” she stated.

Sonia Montaño, Director of the Division for Gender Affairs of ECLAC, closed the conference highlighting the fact that gender equality thinking has gradually shifted to the public sector.

She also recounted the main ideas discussed during the Forty-sixth meeting of the Presiding Officers of the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, which was held from 28 to 30 November at ECLAC headquarters and was attended by ministers and authorities for Women from 19 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the International Seminar Policies on time, time for policies, which discussed how men and women are distributing their time, taking into account paid work, household duties and other daily activities.

Montaño stated that it is of utmost importance to have a real discussion on equality, “which is based on the concept of total workload, which includes the production of goods and services in the public and private sectors”. “The concept of work as something associated only with a wage and income must change,” she stressed.

She also highlighted the fact that some countries in the region are already producing time-use statistics due to the huge demand for care activities which has emerged. However, she stressed that it is not enough to show figures relating to equality, but arguments to encourage the participation of women in all sectors must also be given.