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Canada's feminist approach to addressing unpaid and paid care work through international assistance

This guidance aims to provide implementing partners with a better understanding of the Government of Canada's approach to addressing unpaid and paid care work through international assistance, particularly with regard to developing care programming anchored in a feminist approach. It includes information on how we expect implementing partners to integrate care issues into their analysis and project design.

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Care work terminology

Unpaid care work

Unpaid care work is defined as informal caregiving undertaken without monetary compensation, including:

Paid care work

Paid care work is defined as direct care for persons, including personal care and related domestic tasks, done within a household or institution, for payment and/or profit, often within the informal sector. This can include:

Care economy

The care economy is made up of all forms of care work, both unpaid and paid, delivered formally and informally, by and through the household, community, state, private sector, civil society and others.

Time poverty

Time poverty refers to a lack of discretionary time, including time used to meet basic requirements for rest and leisure, owing to excessive hours spent at work, either paid or unpaid work.

Why unpaid and paid care work matters

Care work is essential for human well-being and sustainable economic growth. But across the world, care work continues to be overlooked, undervalued and highly gendered. Globally, ILO data suggests that 16.4 billion hours/day are spent in unpaid care work, the equivalent of US$11 trillion or 9% of global GDP, making it twice as large as the global agriculture sector.

Women aged 15 and above spend on average 3.2 times more than men on unpaid care work (this varies by region: 1.7X in Americas; 3.4X in Africa; 4.1X in Asia Pacific; 4.7X in Arab States, according to ILO data). A significant proportion of unpaid care work involves drudgery, which combined with time poverty can result in physical and emotional strain (sometimes known as 'depletion'). The disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work carried by women and girls restricts their opportunities for education, employment, political and social engagement and leisure, affects their health, and deepens their vulnerability to poverty.

The gendered distribution of unpaid care work also varies by household and community, with factors such as religion, culture and income level playing a role, affecting women and girls who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination the most. When women of working age are unavailable to provide care, the household often turns to children, particularly adolescent girls, and older women to fill this role.

A UNICEF report released in 2016 estimated that girls aged 5-14 spend 40% more time on unpaid household chores and collecting water and firewood compared to boys their age, with girls between 10 and 14 years old in South Asia and the Middle East and North Africa spending nearly double the amount of time. Higher numbers of girls than boys often drop out of secondary school for reasons including the expectation that they should contribute to household work. Children's performance of light work including household chores can make important contributions to household well-being and their own transition to adulthood. But in cases where the amount and type of unpaid care work being done by children, especially girls, prevents them from attending school or training, jeopardizes their safety, health or development, or deprives them of their childhood, their potential or their dignity, it can be considered child labour, as per ILO definitions.

Women are also disproportionately represented in the informal paid care economy, which is characterized by low pay, low status, poor working conditions and limited social protections. Globally, ILO data shows that 19.3% of female employment is in the paid care workforce. The paid care workforce includes 75.6 million domestic workers worldwide, 76.2% of whom are women. Of all domestic workers, 81.2% are in informal employment. These workers experience some of the worst working conditions across the care workforce and are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Unpaid and paid care work are two sides of the same coin. The lack of recognition and value afforded to unpaid care work is mirrored in the way that paid care work is thought of as "women's work". And for individual women, any reduction in their own unpaid care work responsibilities is often based on their access to an underpaid, vulnerable and feminized care workforce.

The challenges associated with unpaid and paid care work are exacerbated in fragile contexts and during periods of crisis, including natural disasters and conflicts. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the unequal nature of unpaid and paid care work. It has exposed the essential nature of care work and exacerbated the gender inequality that characterises it. School and childcare closures, family illness and overwhelmed health services have substantially increased unpaid and paid care work pressure on women and girls, with negative effects on their capacity to participate in employment, education and public life. Health and long-term care workers are disproportionately women. They face a double caregiving burden with additional demands placed on health services requiring longer working hours combined with increased care work at home. Domestic workers, particularly migrant domestic workers, face worsened working conditions, reduced job security and increased health risks. These negative effects for women and families are anticipated to be long-lasting without proactive interventions.

Unpaid and paid care work in international assistance policy and programming

The global policy agenda has begun to recognize the pressing need to address women's and girls' disproportionate and heavy responsibility for care work and the poor working conditions of care workers. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 (Gender Equality), target 5.4, calls on States to "recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate" in order to achieve gender equality and sustainable development.

The Government of Canada is developing programming that helps address unpaid care work and the disproportionate burden of care shouldered by women around the world. This approach is founded on Canada's Feminist International Assistance Policy, which recognizes that supporting gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is the best way to build a more peaceful, more inclusive and more prosperous world. Addressing unpaid and paid care work issues and investing in the care economy offers the opportunity for a triple win. It is good for:

With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating inequalities and shining a spotlight on the looming care crisis, we are seeking to deepen and scale up programming designed to address these challenges, through programming that recognizes, reduces and addresses the unequal distribution of unpaid and paid care work, and that supports and protects the rights of unpaid and paid care workers to address a root cause of global inequality. Canada has an opportunity to raise the profile of unpaid and paid care work issues internationally, gather and disseminate evidence on what works to address unpaid and paid care work issues, and catalyze meaningful and lasting change in this critical area.

To help meet these objectives, the Government of Canada will seek to deepen and scale up programming designed to address care issues by considering support to stand-alone initiatives whose main objectives are to address unpaid and/or paid care work issues in a gender transformative way, as well as to projects that integrate care considerations as part of broader project objectives.

Because care issues are relevant across all of the Feminist International Assistance Policy action areas, sectors and regions, Canada is adopting a holistic approach to integrating care considerations to address the issue effectively. Through its programming on care, Canada will aim to enhance the participation of women and girls in economic, educational, political, community and leisure activities aligned to their own choice, and the protection and promotion of the rights and needs of all unpaid and paid care workers, particularly women and girls.

To ensure that programming takes care issues into account, in all new projects submitted for funding, we will require implementing partners to integrate care issues in their projects' GBA+ and human rights analyses, and to use this information to inform project design and theory of change as appropriate (see guidance below for further details). We will assess proposals by considering the extent to which they incorporate a clear assessment of care issues as identified through the GBA+ and approaches to addressing care-related challenges and opportunities, or explain why this is not relevant.

We also recognize that a failure to address unpaid care work issues may limit the ability of projects across action areas to reach expected outcomes. Conversely, effectively addressing the systemic barriers women and girls face due to their unpaid care work responsibilities is key to enabling their meaningful participation, with the potential to enhance the depth, sustainability and scale of project outcomes. As such, through GBA+, implementing partners are also required to assess the extent to which care-related issues may hinder project outcomes, and where challenges are identified, propose approaches to address them. Expenses related to care, such as the provision of child care facilities for beneficiaries participating in training programmes, may be allowable if it can be demonstrated that they facilitate the achievement of project objectives. Implementing partners are also encouraged to revisit operational projects to consider how care responsibilities might impact projects' abilities to meet expected results, and seek ways to address this.

Feminist principles for Canada's interventions in unpaid and paid care work

The following principles, framed around Canada's overarching feminist principles, guide our interventions in unpaid and paid care work. They should be read together with the Feminist Approach - Innovation and Effectiveness Guidance Note and other guidance and policy on gender equality.

Human rights-based and inclusive

This requires assessing the inequalities experienced by women and girls in all their diversity, looking at how intersecting identities such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, migration status, and ability influence women's and girls' lived experiences of unpaid and paid care work.

Strategic and focused

Initiatives should be strategic and focused to best address inequities in care work and have the greatest potential to enhance gender equality, such as gender-transformative programs, policies, laws, economic and social reforms that can catalyze sustainable change (e.g. parental leave, pension reform).

Transformative and activist

Initiatives should engage with women's rights organizations, networks of youth including young feminists, men and boys, communities and the private and public sectors to address unequal power relations, systemic discrimination and harmful norms and practices that underpin inequities in care work, and empower women and girls to make decisions on how they choose to use their own time.

Evidence-based and accountable

Initiatives should be informed by GBA+ and human rights analysis, lessons learned, and with a strong commitment to monitoring and data collection, including in sensitive areas such as social norms change.

Programmatic entry points: a "5 Rs" approach to care work

There are five entry points for addressing care work in Canada-funded programming, anchored by Canada's commitment to gender equality and human rights:

This "5 Rs" approach (Recognize, Redistribute, Reduce, Represent, Respond) is directly informed by a series of "3/4/5 Rs" frameworks on care work, initially designed by Diane Elson (2008) and further elaborated by various organizations including Oxfam, ActionAid, the Institute for Development Studies and most recently the ILO. Footnote 1

Recognizing the value of unpaid and poorly paid care work

Through its projects and partnerships, the Government of Canada can contribute to the recognition of unpaid and paid care work done primarily by women and girls in many ways, such as by:

Reducing drudgery and hours spent on unpaid care work

Through its projects and partnerships, the Government of Canada can help reduce the drudgery and hours spent on unpaid care work in many ways, such as by:

Redistributing responsibility for care work more equitably

Through our projects and partnerships, we can help redistribute responsibility for care work more equitably between women and men, and boys and girls, and help shift responsibilities for unpaid care work from the household to the state and employers in many ways, such as by:

Ensuring unpaid and paid care workers are represented and have a voice

Through our projects and partnerships, we can help ensure women, girls and caregivers are represented and have a voice in decision-making and design of care-related policies and programs that affect their lives in many ways, such as by:

Responding to the rights and needs of unpaid and paid care workers

Through our projects and partnerships, we can help respond to the rights and needs of unpaid and paid care workers in many ways, such as through:

Implementing partners are encouraged to work simultaneously on more than one 'R', to maximize the impact and sustainability of planned interventions. It is also important to note that these entry points are interconnected. In particular, it is expected that work to address problematic social norms will support the delivery of each of the "5 Rs", as well as interact with a host of broader gender equality issues, such as access to resources and services, decision-making power at the household level, and gender-based violence.  

The results frameworks of stand-alone care programmes will be expected to include one or more of these "Rs" at the intermediate outcomes level. The Government of Canada will work with implementing organizations to define results and co-create impactful programmes in a meaningful way.

Tips on including care issues in GBA+, project design and delivery

Related links

Definitions and data noted above can be found in the following resources:

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