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What is Unpaid Care and Domestic Work?

"Unpaid care and domestic work" encompasses a wide range of non-market unpaid activities performed in households, including direct care for dependents such as children, sick family members, older persons, and persons with a disability, as well as indirect care such as cooking food provisioning, cleaning, collecting fuelwood and water. The provision of care work is the foundation of human life and has an intrinsic value being the precondition for a thriving and sustainable economy with a productive workforce. 

The responsibility of unpaid care and household work falls disproportionately on women and girls around the world, and its unequal distribution is impeding the advancement of women's economic and social empowerment. On average, women in Asia and the Pacific spend 4.1 times the amount of time men spend on unpaid care work. In order to free up women and girls' time and provide them with greater prospects, including access to education, employment, and the ability to contribute to the economy, the equitable redistribution and reduction of unpaid care work is crucial.

Ethnic Minority in Mucangchai, Yenbai, Vietnam. © LouisNguyen

Our Work on Unpaid Care Work

ESCAP’s work on valuing unpaid care and domestic work and investing in the care economy in Asia and the Pacific has accelerated the implementation of global gender equality commitments in the region.

This commitment resonates with the principles outlined in both the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 2019 Asia-Pacific Declaration on Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, which reaffirms the region's dedication to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women.

ESCAP's actions align with the clarion call of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ‘leave no one behind and reach those furthest behind first’. Our work aligns with Sustainable Development Goal 5 which focuses on “achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”, with a particular emphasis on target 5.4, 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”.

Ethnic Minority in Mucangchai, Yenbai, Vietnam. © LouisNguyen

 

Cambodia

Cambodia
National Care Consultation, Cambodia

In Cambodia, ESCAP collaborated with IDS and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs Cambodia to conduct a national study of  the care economy in Cambodia. ESCAP was invited to present the paper at a National Public Forum in Phnom Penh in September 2022. ESCAP also supported the development of a national framework for action through inter-ministerial and stakeholder consultations led by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, namely the National Public Forum on Advancing Women Entrepreneurship in ASEAN through Family Care and Social Protection Policies. In August 2023, ESCAP successfully concluded a capacity building workshop on the care economy for more than 30 officials for the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. During this event, participants shared learning, best practices and discussed the way forward for Cambodia to address the care economy. This capacity-building event was followed by a three-day  national consultation on valuing and investing in unpaid care and domestic work convened by ESCAP and Ministry of Women’s Affairs Cambodia. During this consultation ESCAP introduced the model framework for action to relevant line ministries and held one-on-one consultations with each line ministry to identify areas for potential collaboration to implement a plan for each of these policy priority issues. Following the consultation, ESCAP will support Cambodia in drafting a national action plan on the care economy.

The Philippines

The Philippines
National Care Consultation, Philippines

In the Philippines, ESCAP partnered with Oxfam to support advocacy and capacity building efforts of relevant line ministries, conducting online training sessions. In addition, ESCAP collaborated with the Philippines Commission on Women (PCW), to conduct a national study on care economy concerns, and co-organized a CSW65 side event in 2021 bringing further attention to unpaid care work. ESCAP was also invited to present the study at a National Statistical Conference in the Philippines in October 2022. In September 2023, the Philippine National Consultation on valuing and investing in unpaid care and domestic work was jointly convened by PCW, ESCAP, and Oxfam Pilipinas, with support from the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement. Participants, including both governmental and non-governmental entities, assessed current conditions and identified potential areas for joint interventions aimed at valuing and investing in the care economy in the Philippines, promoting women’s economic empowerment and participation in the labour force, and advancing the collection of gender data. The outcome of this national consultation resulted in a set of recommendations aligned with the discussions, guiding future actions for accelerated action in these areas.

The Philippines
Subnational Care Consultation, Philippines

As a follow-up to the Philippines national consultation, ESCAP conducted a subnational consultation in Ormoc City in the Philippines, jointly with the National Economic Development Authority-Region 8, the Philippine Commission on Women, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement and Oxfam Pilipinas. The consultation served as a critical platform for exchanging knowledge and ideas, with a particular focus on:

  • Data and Evidence Building in Care
  • Care and Climate Nexus
  • Local Policies to Recognize, Reduce and Redistribute Unpaid Care and Domestic Work.

The outcome of the national consultation was a set of recommendations on areas for accelerated action, in line with the consultation discussions. These recommendations contributed to the drafting of a provincial level care ordinance which has now passed its third reading at the provincial level general assembly. It is set to be entered into local legislation following a final public hearing in early 2024.

The Philippines
Provincial Care Summit , February 13 2024, Borongan City, Eastern Samar

 

China

China
Roundtable on Care Economy Policy, China

The Roundtable on China Care Economy Policy Actions and International Cooperation was jointly convened by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Center for International Knowledge on Development (CIKD). The roundtable served as a critical platform to deliberate on the pressing issues surrounding the care economy, especially the disproportionate care burden for women, in the contexts of current and emerging megatrends such as population ageing and the shrinking labour force. It also aimed to solicit inputs on how these issues could be addressed by more proactive policy solutions in China that could contribute to more inclusive, just and sustainable growth.

The roundtable was part of the project “Advancing gender equality through recognizing, reducing and redistributing unpaid care work of women and girls in Asia and the Pacific”, implemented by ESCAP’s Social Development Division under the China-ESCAP Cooperation Programme. This project aimed to provide technical support to governments in four Asia-Pacific countries (i.e., Cambodia, China, Indonesia and the Philippines) to design and implement policy initiatives at the national/subnational level that recognize, reduce and redistribute the unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities of women and girls and promote the enhanced participation of women in the labour force. Such policy initiatives may include the development and scaling up of national investment in care infrastructure, care services, gender-responsive social protection measures, as well as employment-related care policies.

Lao PDR

Lao PDR National Consultation
Lao PDR National Consultation on Valuing Unpaid Care and Domestic Work and Investing in the Care Economy

In June 2024, the Lao PDR National Consultation on Valuing Unpaid Care and Domestic Work and Investing in the Care Economy was jointly convened by Lao Women's Union (LWU), the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), and Oxfam in Laos.

The consultation served as a critical platform for exchanging knowledge and ideas, with a particular focus on:

  • Increasing awareness and understanding of the importance of the care economy in Lao PDR.
  • Exploring innovative approaches, best practices, and successful models from national and international contexts of care policy ecosystems that address gendered inequalities in the care economy.
  • Fostering partnerships across government ministries and departments to collaborate towards a comprehensive and holistic ‘whole of government’ approach to recognize, reduce, and redistribute paid and unpaid care domestic work.
  • Identifying entry points for policy change (social, economic, and legislative aspects) to utilize for a concerted and coordinated implementation of care-focused policy measures, integrating both short and long-term considerations.

The outcome of the national consultation will be the identification of at least four entry points for policy action on the care economy in Lao PDR.

Indonesia

Coming Soon

Timor-Leste

Upcoming nationals consultations are planned in Timor-Leste (2025) to contribute to the formulation of policy initiatives addressing care-related issues.

ASEAN

ESCAP leverages its influential convening power to unite stakeholders and foster regional cooperation to address the care economy. In July 2023, ESCAP, in collaboration with the ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW), through Lao PDR as incumbent ACW Chair, Oxfam, and the ASEAN Secretariat, convened the Regional Forum on Care Work in ASEAN Countries. The forum yielded a set of recommendations that identify areas for accelerated action to value and invest in unpaid care and domestic work. These recommendations were then shared for the consideration of Indonesia as the 2023 ASEAN Chair and Lao PDR as the 2024 ASEAN Chair. Following the forum, ESCAP also continued the strengthening of targeted projects on the care economy with governmental institutions in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Lao PDR, supporting capacity-building efforts of key stakeholders and the development of national frameworks for action.

Partnership
H.E Ms. Soukphaphone Phanit (Lao Women's Union) delivering closing remarks at the Regional Forum on Care Work in ASEAN Countries, Vientiane 2023.