Speech: Re-calibrating our global conversation on care

Opening statement by Ms. Sima Bahous, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, on ‘Embracing the principle of co-responsibility in care and domestic work’ at the High-level Panel in the context of the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly


Today’s dialogue is most timely.  The Care Economy is taking centre stage at a moment when gender equality globally is under attack and at risk of regression. The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated how fundamentally linked care is linked to inequality. Let me give you some evidence. The pandemic led to an estimated 512 billion additional hours of unpaid childcare work for women across the globe. The gender gap in employment, already large before the pandemic, has expanded across almost all countries, threatening to increase gender pay gaps. Research shows us that partnered women with children, especially young children, experienced sharper pandemic-related drops in labour force participation than men. In fact, women’s labour force participation is projected to remain below pre-pandemic levels in 169 countries and areas.

COVID has revealed the world’s dependence on women as unpaid and primary care-givers. Women’s work has proven essential. But it remains largely unrecognized and unsupported, especially in times of crisis. This has had results that have seriously and negatively affected women’s livelihoods and futures.

Today’s event is an opportunity to re-calibrate our global conversation on care. Using the intensified spotlight on care systems provoked by COVID, we now have an opportunity to reassess the care economy through the lens of gender equality. This is a conversation that has its foundations in Generation Equality. This critical and unprecedented multi-stakeholder platform, which is convened by UN Women, was born from a recognition that gender equality implementation and action needs global acceleration. It brings together stakeholders from across sectors to make ambitious commitments to advance women’s and girls’ rights worldwide.

I am very proud that the Global Alliance for Care, co-convened by the National Institute of Women of Mexico (INMUJERES) and UN Women, is a collective commitment of Generation Equality’s Action Coalition for Economic Justice and Rights. It is powerful evidence of the impact we are seeing in just one year since the Alliance’s launch in Mexico City and Paris.

As we will hear today, we have an unparalleled opportunity to transform the care economy and accelerate results on gender equality and across the SDGs through: 1. Investing in quality, affordable, and accessible care services and infrastructure; 2. Implementing policies that recognize, reduce, and redistribute women’s and girls’ unpaid work; and 3. Representing and rewarding paid care workers.

All of us have a role to play—UN bodies, member states, youth-led organizations, the private sector, civil society, international organizations and philanthropy.

Allow me to share just one example. UN Women and ILO are jointly delivering results through “Promoting Decent Employment for Women through Inclusive Growth Policies and Investments in the Care Economy”.  Policy tools have been successfully developed that provide a blueprint for governments to cost care system needs, assess coverage gaps, and estimate the employment and fiscal returns of investment in care infrastructure. Over 35 of our country offices are working with a range of partners—government, civil society and other development actors to advance the policy agenda to transform the care economy. Since the launch of the Care Alliance, 78 governments, international organizations, the corporate sector and civil society organizations from around the world have joined the Alliance. This clearly shows us the growing prominence of care and care work on the global agenda.

The Global Alliance for Care exemplifies therefore a model of co-responsibility and public and private investment into comprehensive care systems. Those investments, commitments and innovative solutions will create resilience to crises, strengthen our economies and advance gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

The women of the world have waited too long already for this. Together, we now have an opportunity to make a lasting change in how we recognize, affirm and support care work across our societies. Let us not wait a moment longer.

 I thank you.