The need for a gender data agenda that accurately measures care 


By Gabrielle Leite, Equal Measures 2030 Gender Data Analyst, and Ankita Panda, The Asia Foundation Senior Program Officer on Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality.  

Gender norms around caregiving are pervasive, and treat care work as the domain of women, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. This means care is often treated as a labor of love, and that its costs are often invisible and  underreported in official statistics.

A feminist care economy calls for a gender data agenda that recognises, reduces, redistributes, rewards and represents unpaid care work, the 5Rs of the care agenda. According to a policy brief by Data2x, “by collecting, analyzing, and using gender data across all 5Rs of care, governments can build an evidence-based feminist care economy—and drive lasting change for women, girls, and all those who provide and receive care worldwide.”  

But data on care needs, workers, funding, policies and its impacts are scarce to non-existent. According to a white paper by The Asia Foundation, most of the data that exists focuses on paid care work, with data on unpaid care or care in the informal sector often unrecorded and unrecognized in official statistics. For example, 21 out of 58 countries in the Asia-Pacific have only one data point to measure unpaid care.

For its SDG Gender Index, EM2030 has also faced difficulties in identifying global indicators that capture the care economy. The lack of data on issues such as the time spent on care by different members of the household, formal and informal workers in the care economy, and the supply of care and associated costs is an impediment to ensuring that policymaking is truly gender-responsive and effective, and for SDG 5 — achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls — to be accurately measured.  

The Asia-Pacific context 

In Asia and the Pacific, women bear 80% of unpaid caregiving. “This is not just unequal, it’s the most unequal in the world.” Women in the region have historically worked the world’s longest hours, and more than half that time is spent providing unpaid care.  

But it is complex to quantify. The Asia and Pacific regions are extremely diverse across incomes, cultures, infrastructure, governance structure and development levels. These differences lead countries of the regions to grapple with different types of care and care related challenges.  

For example, high-income countries like Japan and South Korea are seeing rapidly ageing populations and low fertility rates. This is leading them to invest more in eldercare when compared to their low- and middle-income neighbors, like India and Bangladesh. These last two have large youth populations given their higher fertility rates and investment efforts are centered on and of greater scale in childcare. 

The Foundation’s white paper also found that the Pacific Island countries generally lag behind other countries in the region in terms of care infrastructure and policies and data availability. For example, only five countries in the world— Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, and Tonga—do not have any form of paid maternity leave (let alone parental leave) across all levels of government, and all are in the Pacific Islands.

More research is urgently needed in those countries to address this gap. The Asia Foundation’s Pacific Islands office is currently finalizing a research study that will provide an in-depth overview on the state of the care economy in the Pacific Islands, especially as it relates to care migration pathways and trends. 

Addressing gaps in care data 

Accessible and inclusive care policies and systems cannot be designed without quantitative, qualitative and participatory gender data. These policies are essential for promoting the well-being of children, women, households and societies, the functioning of the economy and the achievement of gender equality in the SDGs.  

Addressing gaps in care data requires investing in more robust and rigorous research, and standardization of care data. Some recommendations provided in The Asia Foundation’s white paper to address this include: 

  • Prioritize and invest in care data: Governments should allocate sufficient resources in their budget for data collection and analysis.  
  • Standardize definitions and measurement methods: Establish clear and standardized definitions of care work, including both paid and unpaid care. Develop uniform measurement methods and metrics to ensure consistency in data collection. 
  • Improve data collection to incorporate measures of paid and unpaid work in national statistics. This could include conducting more costs-benefit analyses of investments and impact assessments of care policies and programs. 
  • Time-use surveys: Conduct and promote time-use surveys to capture the amount of time that caregivers spend in providing unpaid care work. 
  • Gender-responsive data collection: Ensure that data collection is gender-responsive, recognizing the disproportionate burden of care work that falls on women and to allow for intersectional analysis. This includes collecting gender-disaggregated data on care responsibilities, as well as multiple dimensions and characteristics such as age, geography, race, disability, immigration status, among others.  
  • Data on migrant and informal workers: Improve data collection methods for informal and migrant care workers who may not be adequately covered by labor protections. This includes tracking the employment conditions and contributions of these workers. 

Credible data that capture both supply and demand can help governments make critical decisions about what to prioritize, where to target investment, who to involve, and how to allocate resources more efficiently and effectively and, especially, to make care work visible.  

For the scholar and activist Silvia Federici, ‘’You cannot make good policy if the single largest sector of your nation’s economy is not visible [as] you can’t presume to know where the needs are.” Achieving gender equality for all women and girls everywhere and having a caring society that values and looks out for everyone, requires having a feminist data agenda that makes care work visible. 

This series of blog posts done by Equal Measures 2030, in collaboration with other feminist organizations, aims to raise awareness on the first UN International Day of Care and Support and to shed light on the importance of care work and the care economy, and the pressing need for accurate and inclusive data. Read the other blogs in this series:

The care crisis is a feminist issue, here’s why.
Recognising the unpaid care economy for a gender equal future

Recognising the unpaid care economy for a gender equal future 

Written by Ester Pinheiro, Communications Officer, Equal Measures 2030 in conversation with Lucia Espiñeira – economist and coordinator at Ecofeminita 

Every day women spend 16.4 billion hours on unpaid care work, equivalent to 2 billion people working 8 hours a day without pay, according to data from the ILO’s 64-country time-use survey. Women work twice as many hours as men in unpaid care work. In a year, women spend 1,118 hours (47 days) on these tasks, while men spend just 572 hours (23 days). 

Globally, unpaid work is equivalent to 10.8 trillion dollars, with only four economies in the world scoring above this value. In Latin America and the Caribbean, this contribution represents between 15.7% and 24.2% of the regional GDP, with women contributing 75% of this value. In Brazil, 11% of GDP comes from care work, worth more than any industry and twice as much as agriculture in the country. 

Despite the significant time and value of this work, current economies largely ignore it. Gender divisions in the labour market leave women working daily without renumeration and this inequality is normalised by patriarchal ideas of caring being a biological female instinct and thus the duty and destiny of women. 

Lucia Espiñeira, economist and coordinator of MenstruAcción in the organisation Ecofeminita criticises mainstream economics for not addressing the care variable, “the basis of capitalism’s systems of inequality”. “By making feminist policies we are attacking the biggest problems in society, because poverty is feminised, because we are the ones who earn the least, who have the most precarious jobs and who are most responsible for care. As the writer Amalia Pérez Orozco says, it’s about ‘putting lives at the centre and not markets at the centre’.” 

The 5Rs for a stronger economy 

The 5Rs: ‘recognize, reduce, redistribute, reward and represent’ provide a basis for valuing unpaid care work. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the work that goes unrecognized, negatively affects women’s employment prospects, whereas a more equal distribution between men and women is associated with higher levels of women’s labour force participation and consequently a stronger economy. 

To recognize care in the economy, Espiñeira warns that it is necessary for governments to look at and focus on care-dependent people and beyond, recognizing that all people need care.  

“It is necessary to generate public policies to recognize care work in a practical way: with investment in the construction of nurseries for children, institutions for the elderly and people with disabilities; providing assistance to professionals with training on how to care for different groups of the population; licenses for pregnant women and adoptive parents; creating ways to include people in situations of informality in these policies”, analyses Espiñeira. 

The benefits of recognizing care  

The positive impact of policies recognizing unpaid care work is remarkable in women’s lives and in the economy, according to the ILO. This shows that the issue of unpaid care is still an important feminist agenda to be addressed. “In Argentina we have had feminist movements such as ‘Ni Una Menos‘ against harassment and abuse, the ‘Marea Verde‘ for legal abortion and since then we have been at a standstill, I think the care agenda could be the next fight“, says the economist. 

In order to communicate with the mainstream economy, Espiñeira emphasises the direct improvement in productivity rates, i.e. women are re-entering the labour market and have a chance for advancement. In addition, recognising care also reduces the impact on women’s mental and physical overload. 

“In the end, where is women’s leisure today?,” Espiñeira asks. To quote the Argentinean writer Eleonor Faur, symbolically women would be “jugglers‘, trying to reconcile different tasks and forgetting about themselves, living precarious lives that do not go beyond working. 

As an attempt to promote education about this inequality, a care calculator has been developed in Argentina that has a similar logic to the Equal Measures 2030 calculator, which estimates when certain gender equality indicators will be reached in each country. 

This awareness-raising tool in Argentina estimates how much domestic and care work is worth in order to raise awareness of the effort, time and money required to perform it. In particular with the aim of incorporating men into care work, which is historically marked and naturalised as ‘women’s roles’. 

Power dynamics influence how we measure and organise economies, particularly when it comes to care work and what is considered ‘worthy’ of remuneration. To move towards a gender-equal future, we must unravel these power dynamics and address the important unpaid work that underpins our economy. Doing this starts with recognising, reducing, redistributing, rewarding and representing. 

This series of blog posts done by Equal Measures 2030, in collaboration with other feminist organizations, aims to raise awareness on the first UN International Day of Care and Support and to shed light on the importance of care work and the care economy, and the pressing need for accurate and inclusive data. Read the other blogs in this series:

The care crisis is a feminist issue, here’s why.
The need for a gender data agenda that properly measures care

The care crisis is a feminist issue, here’s why.

Written by Ester Pinheiro, Communications Officer, and Gabrielle Leite, Gender Data & Insights Analyst, Equal Measures 2030 

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, essential care services have become more visible in society and have further emphasised the vital, yet unremunerated and unrecognised, roles that women often play. 

Globally, women spend 2.8 more hours than men on unpaid care and domestic work, often working triple shifts. They work in their paid jobs, care for children and also take care of the family home; this triple burden impacts their physical and mental health, as well as their retention in the labour market. 

When schools and preschools closed during COVID-19, women undertook the greatest share of childcare. In 2020, it is estimated that more than two million mothers dropped out of the labour force and their participation in the workforce fell by 1.8 percentage points relative to 2019, which was almost double the decline observed for men.  

Nearly 60 percent of countries did not take measures to compensate for this increase in unpaid work, such as expanded family leave, emergency childcare services or cash-for-care services to compensate for school closures. On current trajectories, the gap between women’s and men’s unpaid care time will narrow slightly, but by 2050, women worldwide will still spend an average of 2.3 hours more per day on unpaid care and domestic work than men. 

Applying an intersectional lens to care 

The disparities are accentuated not only in relation to gender, but also to categories such as ethnicity, class and racial identity, with rural and Indigenous women spending up to eight more hours a week on care work than women who are not part of this population, as is the case, for example, in Mexico. 

 Among the 6.3 million domestic workers in Brazil, 84% are black, 95% are women and more than 50% of households headed by domestic workers are poor. And in Latin America and the Caribbean, lower-income women spend an average of 46 hours per week on unpaid work, compared to higher-income women, who spend an average of 33 hours per week. 

A roadmap for action 

For Milena Páramo, regional coordinator of CLADEM in Latin America, the care crisis has little by little emerged as a main issue on the regional feminist agenda and of the States of the region, and proof of this is the Buenos Aires Commitment (2022) adopted by the XV Regional Conference on Women. 

“The Buenos Aires Commitment recognizes care as a right of people to care, be cared for and exercise self-care and proposes that States advance agreements in specific areas to move towards a society of care, addressing the overcoming of social division. of work and the promotion of a social organization of care,” says Milena. 

For feminists in the Latin American region, the Buenos Aires Commitment is an important roadmap, “by strengthening the commitment of parties to move towards more just, equitable societies and challenging us to think not only about a new development model but also about new society model.” 

Care work is also increasingly recognised as central to unlocking progress on multiple Sustainable Development Goals. Addressing these gender imbalances in relation to the distribution of care work is not only relevant to gender equality and SDG 5, but is also linked to and can help address SDG 1 (end all poverty), SDG 3 (healthy lives and promote well-being for everyone at all ages), SDG 4 (inclusive and quality education for all), SDG 8 (create decent jobs for all and promote inclusive growth) and SDG 10 (reduce inequalities). 

This series of blog posts conducted by Equal Measures 2030, in collaboration with other feminist organizations, aims to raise awareness on the first UN International Day of Care and Support and to shed light on the importance of care work and the care economy, and the pressing need for accurate and inclusive data. Read the other blogs in the series:

Recognising the unpaid care economy for a gender equal future
The need for a gender data agenda that properly measures care