On International Women’s Day Rosalind Eyben reflects on IDS’s progress in raising the profile of care in development.
Feminist scholar-activists at IDS have been working with global and national networks as part of a collective effort to have care recognized and integrated into development policies and programmes. International Women’s Day is a good moment to take stock of how we are doing.
Care has long been a central preoccupation of feminists, including at IDS. It is in the Beijing Platform for Action which states ‘Care of children, the sick and the elderly is a responsibility that falls disproportionately on women, owing to lack of equality and the unbalanced distribution of remunerated and unremunerated work between women and men.’ UNIFEM’s (now UN Women) first Progress of the World’s Women report (2000) emphasizes how women’s economic empowerment is constrained due to conventional conceptions of how economies operate that leave out much of the unpaid work that women do in all economies including care.
At IDS, our recent work on care originates in 2008 when the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development was highlighting the importance of care and the Pathways of Women’s Empowerment (Pathways) research consortium was looking at different meanings of empowerment current in development policy. We were disturbed by the dominance of advocacy for women’s economic empowerment based on arguments that it was a contributing factor to economic growth and largely focused on women as potential entrepreneurs. Policies viewing women as instrumental to other objectives cannot promote their collective empowerment because they fail to address the structures by which gender inequality is perpetuated over time. IDS members of Pathways organised a workshop with some leading feminist economists to discuss how women’s empowerment needs a people-centred economy whereby attention is given to the role of unpaid care in promoting well-being.
All well and good. But what could we do over and above publishing policy briefings? In development policy spaces, care’s invisibility was amazing! When a very influential bilateral donor organised an e-forum on women’s economic empowerment, none of the gender specialists from around the world contributing to the forum mentioned care. We urgently emailed well known feminist scholars to make a case for the importance of care, thus ensuring it got on the agenda of a conference the agency was organising as a follow up to the e-forum. We realised that however sound the research of UNRISD and others, evidence about the importance of care would remain ignored without a conscious strategy of bringing it to people’s attention.
We began looking more systematically for opportunities to introduce ‘care’ in conferences, workshops and donor guidelines. The global economic crisis was highlighting how unpaid care was sustaining families and the wider community and the pressure this was putting on women. We had what political scientists describe as a window of political opportunity to challenge the ‘care-less economy’. Others, in NGOs, donor agencies and research institutes were also talking more about care, each of us encouraged by these signals that we were not alone and that the effort was worth it. We reached out to each other.
All this needs time – and resources! Back to the donor agencies to persuade them this was something worth financing. IDS policy influencing work on care is currently being funded as separate projects by Sida and DFID. We are working in partnership with Action Aid International who have just published an excellent report Making Care Visible: Women’s Unpaid Care Work in Nepal, Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya and with the BRAC Development Institute in Bangladesh and SMERU in Indonesia. We are also part of a wider, loose network of feminists working in international NGOs, universities and United Nations agencies seeking to get care onto development policy agendas.
‘Care’ is beginning to appear more often in policy work on gender, both at the national and global level. Success often depends on an alliance with someone on the inside of an agency who wants care to be a central theme in development policy but needs external voices as leverage. It doesn’t always work. Care continues to get sidelined. The World Bank’s 2012 World Development Report on gender equality extensively analysed care in the main text but it was excluded from the executive summary. Getting care into policy statements needs great persistence. What is it about development policy processes that are blocking these collective efforts?
What have we learnt?
- Analyse power to understand how care remains invisible and to identify and take advantage of cracks in the status quo.
- Be alert to exploiting opportunities and integrate work on care into the other projects we are undertaking.
- Seek out actively others equally concerned – and don’t forget people whom you haven’t seen for ages. We recently got an email from a former colleague now working for a UN agency to learn how unbeknown to us, she has been making waves there. We should have contacted her ages ago.
- Talk about it a lot. And blog when you can. We need to do more. Communications could be a full time activity. Our work on care is just one among many other things we are doing. I am the only member of our group in IDS that does not have significant care responsibilities for children or parents! My IDS colleague Naomi Hossain today also blogs on the return of the care agenda to development, particularly in the context of the recent food price volatility.
Rosalind Eyben is a Research Fellow in the Participation, Power and Social Change research team at IDS and her Twitter account is: @rosalindeyben
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