Mark Vincent Aranas
Mark is a communications lead at Oxfam. His work centers on responsible business practices, inclusive value chains, and women’s economic empowerment in Asia. Oxfam is an international confederation of 20 humanitarian and development organizations working in more than 90 countries. Read more from Mark Vincent Aranas: “Who is caring for our ‘invisible’ carers?” (1 April 2020) at
The coronavirus pandemic is worsening our already unequal and sexist economy. At the bottom of the economic pyramid lie 36 million people in Southeast Asia who are living below the poverty line (UNDP, 2017) (USD 1.90 a day) — many of whom are women and girls with no access to health care or any form of social protection to shield them from COVID-19.
On top of this, women and girls are responsible for over 75% of all unpaid care and domestic work globally. In Asia and the Pacific, this means women spend at least four times more time doing unpaid care work than men (ILO, 2018.) Women’s care responsibilities, such as laundry and childcare, increase even further in low-income settings, where essential infrastructure and public services are lacking (Hall, 2020.) These are compounded by gendered expectations that women should be the primary carers for the sick or for the quarantined in the absence of enough hospital beds and access to critical medical and social services.
The need to address unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work to reignite progress on gender equality has permeated across various development spaces, including the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UNGA, 2015) where unpaid care work appears as one of the targets under Goal 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls). Oxfam’s estimates also show that women’s unpaid care work alone is adding value to the economy by at least USD 10.8 trillion a year, a figure three times larger than the global tech industry (Lawson, et.al, 2020.)
Considering that the wheels of our economy and society keep turning at the expense of the largely undocumented and unaccounted unpaid care work of women and girls, a right-based approach that responds to the differentiated and gendered impacts of the pandemic should animate proposed solutions and interventions. We must ensure that we are not replicating inequalities or increasing women’s unpaid care workloads.
Going beyond, we must integrate approaches to transform longstanding traditional social norms on gendered roles. Decisions that affect the public health and economic systems in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the world must likewise involve women and girls, and incorporate messages that recognize, reduce, and redistribute the unpaid care work that they do, day in day out. Only then will we be able to tilt the balance for women and girls.
Hall, S. 2020. Addressing unpaid care to close gender gaps in the Philippines and Zimbabwe. Oxfam: https://policy-practice.oxfam.org.uk/publications/addressing-unpaid-care-to-close-the-gender-gap-in-the-philippines-and-zimbabwe-620933.
International Labour Organization. 2018. Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—dgreports/—dcomm/—publ/documents/publication/wcms_633135.pdf.
Lawson, M., A. Parvez-Butt, R. Harvey, D. Sarosi, C. Coffey, K. Piaget, and J. Thekkudan. 2020. Time to care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis. Oxfam Inequality Report: https://www.oxfam.org/en/research/time-care.
United Nations Development Programme. 2017. Financing the Sustainable Development Goals in ASEAN: Strengthening integrated national financing frameworks to deliver the 2030 Agenda: https://asean.org/storage/2012/05/Report-on-Financing-SDGs-in-ASEAN1.pdf.
United Nations General Assembly. 2015. Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: https://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/70/1&Lang=E.