The link between Unpaid Care Work, Poverty and  Gender-Based Violence: Are we advocating enough for Care supporting policies?

Anandita Ghosh Uncategorized

By Sharmishtha Nanda, Ruth Oloo, Amber Parkes, Anam Parvez

Care is central to the well-being of humans. 

Globally, women provide more than three-quarters of unpaid care work and make up two-thirds of the paid care workforce[1]. The goods and services produced through unpaid care work are critical in sustaining the “economically active” labour force on a daily and generational basis[2]. Estimates of the data from 53 countries show that unpaid care work would amount to 9 percent of global GDP, which represents a total of USD 11 trillion of purchasing power parity. When measured by an hourly minimum wage, unpaid care and domestic work are valued at around 40 percent of GDP[3]. The burden of total work (unpaid care and paid work) is highest on women in Asia and the Pacific among all regions as well as the global average[4].

  • Unpaid Care Work, motherhood penalty, and vulnerability to violence

Across all countries, the amount of time women devote to unpaid care work increases with the presence of children in a household. This results in a so-called “motherhood penalty”, that is, the share of losses accruing to women’s earnings after childbirth. The increase[5] in the need for care as well as an increase in the intensity of domestic work with each additional child drives the decline in female labour force participation. This is called the “motherhood employment penalty” in the literature and was found to have increased by 38.4 per cent between 2005 and 2015[6]. Another survey[7] reports 61.5 per cent of mothers who have children under 12 years of age report that they took on most or all of that additional unpaid care work due to COVID 19 closures, compared to just 22.4 per cent of fathers reporting that they took on most or all of the additional unpaid care work – a gap of 39.1 percentage points.

Many women, especially those with children avoid taking up paid work, due to the fear of sexual harassment at work, as well as the increased threat of violence at home due to the non-performance of traditional gender roles including childcare, cooking, and cleaning. Social reactions to women who do not conform to societal norms of unpaid care and domestic work lead to an increase in domestic and intimate partner violence. In different social economic settings in Africa[8] and Asia[9], both women and men show disturbing acceptability for violence against women who fail to perform domestic chores at the household and community level. Women’s unemployment or greater casualization of their work can further entrench their role as carers and increase their exposure to gender-based violence, making it harder to escape it[10]. As the pandemic rendered more women without incomes,  regular paid work and increased their unpaid care responsibilities, global estimates[11] predicted that for every three months of lockdown, there would be an additional 15 million cases of intimate partner violence.

When women do not have access to paid work, they remain economically dependent on male providers and continue being part of the global feminisation of poverty. As women enter their peak productive and reproductive years, their likelihood of experiencing extreme poverty increases from 4 per cent to 22 per cent[12], mainly due to unequal childcare responsibilities.

Greater investments in care infrastructure are critical to offsetting the gap in care work created by the participation of women in paid work outside homes, especially in the pandemic context when recession and austerity measures have further worsened the public provisioning of care.

 Advocacy for care and investing in care infrastructure

Recognising the value of care by adequately prioritising and investing in it is critical for healthy, just, and thriving societies and economies, where all people of all genders, classes, and ethnicities, can flourish. Yet, despite growing evidence of its sole burden on women and catastrophic harms, care work remains largely unrecognised as a social good and absent from policymakers’ agendas.

Tools that can enable countries to monitor and track progress and, by doing so, hold governments to account on these commitments are critically needed as countries rebuild their economies and address the fallouts from the pandemic and other crises, such as the hunger crisis in the Horn, East, and Central Africa[13], unprecedented inflation in South Asia, and so on.

The Care Policy Scorecard[14] (hereafter, the ‘Scorecard’) provides care advocates with a practical tool to measure and track government progress and commitments on policies that have a direct impact on care (unpaid and paid) and provides policymakers with evidence and information to make informed decisions on these policies. The Scorecard draws on the work of feminist and development economists and the ILO’s 5R Framework[15] to outline the key components of a care-enabling public policy environment: one that is able to recognise, reduce, redistribute and represent unpaid care work and adequately reward paid care work. This is accompanied by a set of policy indicators and questions to assess progress systematically and holistically across relevant public policy areas for unpaid and paid care work.

To illustrate, let us think about the issue of inadequate childcare support infrastructure that leads millions of women worldwide to face the “motherhood penalty”, lose valuable skills, and remain vulnerable to poverty and violence. In purely financial terms, some estimates point out that investing in childcare infrastructure could add additional global GDP to the tune of 3 trillion USD while adding 43M jobs[16].

While evidence from time-use surveys and other social norms research is useful,  developing an advocacy strategy based on the Care Policy Scorecard, which contains indicators and assessment questions spanning multiple unpaid care, paid care and cross-sectoral policy areas relevant to childcare can be used effectively to measure governments’ progress toward an enabling policy environment on childcare and initiate civil society dialogue with policy. For instance, in relation to childcare, the scorecard covers assessments on policy indicators around workplace childcare services, childcare facilities, user fees, insurance fees in the health sector, childcare-related cash transfers, early childhood education, and onsite childcare in public works programs among other, related indicators such as the provision of paid parental leaves, paid family/sick leaves, breastfeeding and daycare at work, flexible working hours, provisions for paid domestic and care work, workplace regulations including prevention of sexual harassment and so on.  The Scorecard also provides detailed guidelines for planning and undertaking the assessments, potential sources of data, team structures, and so on.

The Scorecard focuses on policies that have a direct impact on addressing inequalities in unpaid or paid care work. However, it is critical that governments nurture a wider care-supporting environment for a gender-just pandemic recovery, including progressive taxation that ensures they have sufficient revenues to be able to meet their obligations on care, reduction of economic inequity, and policies to address climate change and hunger.

[1]Charmes. (2019, December 19). The Unpaid Care Work and the Labour Market. An analysis of time use data based on the latest World Compilation of Time-use Surveys. The Unpaid Care Work and the Labour Market. An Analysis of Time Use Data Based on the Latest World Compilation of Time-use Surveys. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from–en/index.htm

[2]Kabeer, N. (2016). Gender Equality, Economic Growth, and Women’s Agency: the “Endless Variety” and “Monotonous Similarity” of Patriarchal Constraints. Feminist Economics, 22(1).

[3]Dugarova, E. (2020). Unpaid care work in times of the COVID-19 crisis: Gendered impacts, emerging evidence and promising policy responses.

[4]Office for Asia and the Pacific. (2020, September 25). Millions of hours spent daily on unpaid work: Evidence from Asia and the Pacific – ILOSTAT. ILOSTAT. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from https:///millions-of-hours-spent-daily-on-unpaid-work-evidence-from-asia-and-the-pacific/

[5]Azcona, G., & Bhatt, A. (2020). Inequality, gender, and sustainable development: measuring feminist progress. Gender and Development, 28(2).

[6]Beghini, Cattaneo, & Pozzan. (2019, March 7). A quantum leap for gender equality: For a better future of work for all. Report: A Quantum Leap for Gender Equality: For a Better Future of Work for All. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from–en/index.htm

[7]OECD (2021), Main Findings from the 2020 Risks that Matter Survey, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[8]Maina, L. W., & Kimani, E. (2019). Gendered Patterns of Unpaid Care and Domestic Work in the Urban Informal Settlements of Nairobi, Kenya: Findings from a Household Care Survey – 2019.

[9]Nandy, A. (2020). ON WOMEN’s BACKS: Oxfam India Inequality Report.

[10]Abed, D., & Kelleher, F. (2022). The Assault of Austerity: How prevailing economic policy choices are a form of gender-based violence. Oxfam International.

[11]Ahmed, N., Marriott, A., Dabi, N., Lowthers, M., Lawson, M., & Mugehera, L. (2022). Inequality kills.

[12]UN Women. (2022). Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2022. publications/2022/09/progress-on-the-sustainable development-goals-the-gender-snapshot-2022

[13]Food crisis tightens its grip on 19 ‘hunger hotspots’ as famine looms in the Horn of Africa – new report. (2022, September 21).JOINT FAO-WFP NEWS RELEASE. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from

[14]Butt, A. P., Castro Bernandini, M. D. R., Parkes, A., Paz Arauco, V., Seghaier, R., & Sharmishtha, N. (2021). Care Policy Scorecard: A tool for assessing country progress towards an enabling policy environment on care. Oxfam.

[15]Addati, Cattaneo, Esquivel , & Valarino. (2018, June 28). Care work and care jobs for the future of decent work. Report: Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from–en/index.htm

[16]Atmavilas. (2022, March 7). Investing in child care: good for families, good for children, good for economies. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Retrieved November 23, 2022, from