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At this rate, it will take us almost 300 years to achieve gender equality

The lag in the installation of a comprehensive care system has a decisive impact on equity and equal rights between men and women.

Over the past two decades, Latin America has made efforts to mainstream the gender agenda. However, the profound inequalities in our region are most strongly manifested in women and girls. For example, women still devote more than twice as much time to unpaid domestic and care work as men, which hinders their economic independence and the full enjoyment of their rights on equal terms.

Although various analyses have treated this issue as secondary, the care economy is central to making visible the patriarchal inequalities rooted in modern capitalism. Indeed, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) shows that unpaid domestic and care work is vital to the economies of the region, representing an average of 21.3% of GDP, with women contributing 75.5%.

The report “Inequality Inc.” published by OXFAM in 2024 indicates that unpaid or underpaid domestic and care work undertaken by women and girls underpins corporate profits, as they effectively subsidize the economy by carrying out more than three-quarters of the world’s unpaid care work. The amount, strikingly, amounts to at least US$10.8 billion a year, a figure three times the size of the global technology industry.

What they call love is unpaid work

Care contemplates the work — paid and unpaid — that is carried out within families, the distribution of tasks among the members involved in the production of care and the interactions they establish with the other spaces — state, private, and community — of production and provision of goods and services for care. It must be recognized that when states weaken the institutions that provide public care services, care work tends to fall disproportionately on women, whether or not they are heads of household.

But care activities, whether paid or unpaid, are disproportionately absorbed by women, not only in their homes, but also in their jobs, neighborhoods and social organizations. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the redistribution of care work thus becomes a key factor in halting the decline in the gender gap, promoting equal employment opportunities between men and women, and avoiding the double burden.

In Latin America, 14.8 million people are engaged in paid domestic work, 91.1% of whom are women. Approximately 72.3% of them do not have access to formal employment. In its report “Inequality Inc.”, OXFAM (2024) shows that for the poorest people — usually women, racialized people and groups excluded from society —                                                                                                                                                                                         everyday life has become even more difficult. It is clear that gender inequalities worsen when they intersect with other inequalities such as age, ethnicity, nationality, environmental and socioeconomic conditions, among others.

Thus, gender inequalities in the area of care is another dimension that shows that we are far from achieving Goal 5 of the 2030 Agenda regarding gender equality. In relation to the above, António Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, expressed that “We are at the halfway point of the deadline for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, which ends in 2030, and we run serious risks of not achieving them. At this rate, it will take us almost 300 years to achieve gender equality. Improvements in maternal health and access to family planning have moved astonishingly slowly.”

Keys to addressing the care crisis

In the year 2022, to reflect on the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the care economy, a team of experts from Latin America brought together by the International Development Research Center (IDRC) of Canada and Southern Voice drafted a document to consider possible responses to the so-called “care crisis” in our region.

According to this work, the lag in installing a comprehensive care system has a decisive impact on equity and equality of rights between men and women. It affects women’s labor market participation, especially those with lower incomes, and the ability of low-income households to escape poverty. To address these inequalities, the researchers propose several measures: recognizing and making care work visible; redistributing responsibilities in unpaid care work; creating a basic care basket to quantify these tasks; and promoting representation in collective bargaining for the care economy; among other initiatives.

Advancing these approaches could be key to generating a fairer society by redistributing care tasks and, consequently, promoting gender equality and equity.

*Translated by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva from the original in Spanish.


Professor at the National Univ. of San Martín (UNSAM). Doctor in Social Sciences from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). Master from the Univ. Rey Juan Carlos (Spain). CONICET researcher at IDAES/UNSAM. Specialized in migrations, gender and human rights.


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