International Women’s Day – Who cares?

Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day.  For some, it is a chance to recognise the achievements of women in the arts, sport and science; to others it is an opportunity to highlight inequalities. I wish to do both: to celebrate the contribution women make up and down this country although that contribution causes them more inequality. I speak of caring.

In the world of caring, women are indispensable. And undervalued. 58% of carers in the U.K. are women, but in relation to the number of hours worked the percentage is higher. European Parliament’s Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality commissioned report found that European women spend an average of 26 hours a week on caring activities, whilst men spend only 9 hours.

In the U.K., 73% of those who receive Carers’ Allowance (giving care more than 35 hours a week) are women. 38% of carers are caring for over 100 hours a week.

If all accountants, lawyers and academics took the day off, the world would go on. But if all those who have caring responsibilities took the day off, the world would fall apart (and many looked-after people would die).

Care work, mostly undertaken by women, is some of the most important work done in society but it is paid at the bottom end of the scale, if at all. 1.4 million people provide over 50 hours of unpaid care per week.

An introduction to the report prepared for the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment 2016 explains:

There is not a single country in the world where men and women do an equal amount of care-work. Estimates show that globally, women do 2.5 times more care-work than men. In countries where the care burden is most unequal, this amounts to women spending 10 or more weeks per year on unpaid care compared to men. Even in Sweden, where the distribution of care is most equal, the gap amounts to 1.7 weeks per year.

The economic inequality between genders is linked to this distribution of care.

A survey by Carers UK (UK’s State of Caring) found 26% of carers have been in debt as a result of caring, and that 48% of those caring more than 35 hours a week are struggling to make ends meet. 73% say that financial worries affect their health. And the majority of these carers, as we have seen, would be women.

If the situation were reversed, and men were carrying out the majority of care work, wouldn’t there be more noise?

I hope on this International Women’s Day we will not give lip-service to the contributions women make to society, but work even harder to make the world more equal. A world where women are valued in all the work they do. A world where women are not taken advantage of. A world where all caring roles, carried out by both men and women, are valued and lauded.

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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4 Comments

  • I’m not disagreeing with the gist of what you say – but, as regards your last but one paragraph: does not this rather depend on how one wishes to view, and define `car work` and `caring` generally. Think of ambulance drivers, health and safety inspectors, security personnel (of every kind), the police, emergency services – including firemen and so on – are these workers also not carers of sorts? And the majority of them are male, (and many are poorly renumerated too).

    By the way: I am writing this from Russia and today I have the day off because it is Women’s day! This day has long been a major event here. It is, however, rather sentimental in nature -like a cros between Mother’s day and Valentine’s day – and not so much about equality (indeed it rather brackets women into their received role as being – yes- the caregivers).

  • Allistair Graham 8th Mar '17 - 11:02am

    As a man who works in the social care sector, I would like to point out that the demand for care prevents us from employing many male carers. Due to women living longer than men there is (I would estimate) a 6:1 or 7:1 ratio in favour of employing female carers, because we simply would not have sufficient work for an equal number of male carers. The vast majority of vulnerable and elderly women in need of care require a female to carry out their personal care. Many men accept both male and female carers for their personal care. Only a very small minority of men require only male carers. So it is really very unfair to make a point about inequality when we need to take into account the demands of the service. However, it is certainly true that all carers – male and female – are not paid enough for the vital job they do. Of course, I am only speaking about paid care work. I cannot comment on unpaid work, and you may be right about that.

  • Kirsten johnson 8th Mar '17 - 1:18pm

    Edward, couldn’t agree more that there should be better pay for emergency workers and others you list, but for the purposes of this article I am using ‘carers’ to mean those who provide care in their own home, someone else’s home, or in residential care. This applies to looking after children, disabled, older people, and all those not able to care for themselves. One definition I found is, “A carer is someone who provides support to family or friends who could not manage without this help. This could be caring for a relative, partner or friend who is ill, frail, disabled or has mental health or substance misuse problems.” https://www.carerssupportcentre.org.uk/looking-after-someone/ This was a definition of unpaid care. And then, of course, then there is paid care.

    I have a friend who is a paid carer on very low wage and zero-hours contract. When she was recently ill after an op, she had no income for several months and struggled to keep her flat. She only did this with help from family and friends. Benefits were not enough. Supporting carers and paying them properly needs to be sorted out.

    Allistair, I would like to see us employing many more mare carers. I think there is still a stereotype that women are the best carers and that myth needs to be broken down. It is true that elderly women might prefer the care from another women, but there are a range of care roles that could be fulfilled by men. Regarding unpaid care work, raising awareness of the issue will hopefully spur more men into being aware of the disparity in care hours in their own family situations.

    Thank you to everyone who is reading – and caring about the issue!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Mar '17 - 5:40pm

    Kirsten

    You speak of an important subject , which goes to show, despite a completely open and predominantly supportive party system, that includes women in power in every parliament or assembly in this land, more women going into professions other than politics , is not the end of the world, if they are active in the fields of professional and personal endeavour they themselves choose.

    I am no more worried with sleepless nights about fewer women in the boardrooms, as long as they are there in some capacity, than I am about fewer men in care , or teaching or nursing.

    We should encourage not disparage.

    Many boys and men are struggling.

    When an mp suggested a mens day is not a joke, he was made to seem like one , by the sainted Jess Phillips!

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