Latin American and Caribbean governments commit to advancing toward the care society


Cecilia Alemany En Parlamento

Cecilia Alemany

The XV Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, the leading intergovernmental forum on women's rights and gender equality in the region, organized by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and UN Women, took place in Buenos Aires with the support of the Argentine government and enabled commitments to advance towards the care society to be made.  

The Conference, which more than 1,600 participants attended, was the first regional meeting of authorities, experts, and activists for women's rights and diversity to be held in person.   

While on the other side of the world, at COP 27 we saw the official photos with very few women leading the delegations and complex negotiations; in Buenos Aires, the Regional Conference was the space for all the women's authorities of the region. The main objective was to agree on regional standards for advancing care. It also aimed to include the voices of the executive and legislative branches and civil society and ensure women's participation in all their diversity. All three objectives were achieved.  

Feminist and women's civil society organizations - as is now traditional in this space - organized a Feminist Forum in which over 2,000 activists from 30 countries in the region participated and agreed to strengthen the dialogue on women's rights, diversity, and care.    

At the same time, we co-organized a Parliamentary Forum with ECLAC and the Argentine State for the first time. More than 100 Argentine women parliamentarians from all over the region and the European Union came to the National Congress, where they shared the progress of the different regulatory frameworks for advancing gender equality and care policies based on the joint study we prepared together with ECLAC.  

However, the Buenos Aires Commitment was the primary outcome agreed upon by the governments represented by their Ministers of Women and Equality and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, and it lays the groundwork for our countries to finally prioritize policies and comprehensive care systems based on the principles of equality, universality and social and gender co-responsibility. 

On the journey toward the Conference, we have compiled a list of the main elements that these policies should include and their financing mechanisms.   

Paid care work is one of the few employment options for many rural, indigenous, Afro-descendant, migrant, and refugee women who face multiple forms of discrimination in our societies, not only because they are women but also because of the lack of opportunities and various forms of racism and discrimination. This type of employment tends to be precarious or informal and is characterized by a lack of labor rights and low wages, which reinforces situations of poverty and exclusion.  

As long as paid care work remains socially unrecognized, unformalized, and unprofessionalized, we will not be able to put an end to the reproduction of present and future poverty since many women are responsible for single-parent households and their income determines the opportunities for access to care and education for their own families, and their income in old age will be minimal due to the lack of contribution to social security.  

On the other hand, as evidenced by the COVID-19 crisis, the distribution of care is unequal and unfair. Women assume much more of the burden of unpaid care than men, which results in lower labor participation, lower salaries for equivalent experience and qualifications, and a series of discriminations that operate in the reproductive and non-reproductive age of women throughout their lives. This gap is even greater for women in the poorest households because they devote more hours to unpaid care than those with more income and education and have less access to care services and decent work. 

The role of care in reproducing women's poverty and their indebtedness has been widely documented in Argentina and is becoming increasingly prevalent. The unfair distribution of care disproportionately affects women living in poverty, girls, adolescents, young and older women, indigenous, Afro-descendant, rural, disabled, migrant and refugee women, women living with HIV, and the LGBTIQ+ community.  

Women with disabilities and older women face multiple discriminations and require care, and are often caregivers. The Buenos Aires Commitment recognized that this dual role must be valued and recognized, respecting and guaranteeing their autonomy.   

However, one of the aspects most emphasized during the Conference was the multiplier effect of the care economy for an inclusive, sustainable, transformative, and egalitarian recovery.   

The estimate of the National Institute of Women of Mexico, ECLAC, and UN Women shows that configuring a childcare system in Mexico would require a 1.16% increase in investment in care, which would increase 1.77% of annual production and generate an increase in average annual employment of 3.9% with regards to the employed population by 2019. 

It is estimated that in Argentina, care is the sector with the highest contribution to the economy: 15.9% of GDP, more than industry and commerce. It is also one of the sectors that employ the most women.   

Governments throughout the region agreed that it is essential to advance in the consolidation of the care system as a new productive sector and to recognize investment in care policies and infrastructure to ensure universal access to affordable care services and quality jobs for women.   

Another commitment made was the inclusion of women in all their diversity. The Conference and the parallel events were to generate spaces for dialogue and give a voice to all the groups that make up the paid and unpaid care sector.   

UN Women and CLACSO also presented one of the first systematizations of rural care in the region, identifying the progress of this agenda in the region and how we can move forward to propose policies and comprehensive care systems that integrate rurality and the perspective of territories and communities.  

Now, the challenge will be translating all these commitments into budgets, laws, and policies to move toward a care society. We urge all parties to continue raising awareness and value the importance of care work, and in the case of Argentina, to promote parliamentary debate on the 'Care in Equality' bill in order to comply with ILO minimum standards, which, in some areas such as paternity leave, are not yet law in the country.