Opinion: Feminist strike for the recognition and reinvention of the role of care in Latin America
This article was originally published in El País (in Spanish)
With this strike on International Women's Day, we demand a social pact on unpaid tasks and the visibility of alternatives to the patriarchal and capitalist model that the pandemic has unmasked in all its crudeness.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown why a social pact on care is urgent to end the structural inequalities and the growing feminization of poverty in Latin America, which according to the the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) would would affect 118 million women in 2021, 23 million more than in 2019.
This unprecedented health, economic and social crisis could have been an opportunity to finally recognize care as the cornerstone of our societies. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the invisible work of millions of women has largely made up for the shortcomings of fragile and deficient public systems due to the increasing privatization and commodification of the public sector. Thus, every day we applaud the millions of health professionals, 73% of whom are workers who were exposed to the virus without adequate protective equipment and in health systems without resources after decades of lack of public investment. We are grateful to those who put their health and their families’ at risk to continue caring for our dependent family members; because of schools closing down many had to take up double and triple shifts on top of caring for their children, and many also looked after their grandchildren and nephews as well
A common message resounds from all regions: we still have time to learn from the lessons of this crisis to ask ourselves what society and what future we want for ourselves.
However, the institutional measures in response to COVID-19 continue to underestimate and flagrantly ignore the centrality of care. Consequently, we are witnessing a clear setback in terms of women's human rights. In Latin America it is estimated that their labor participation fell back to the level of 2008. The paid domestic work sector was one of the hardest hit by the crisis, a sector characterized by precariousness and lack of social protection. In Colombia alone, four out of 10 domestic workers have been left unemployed since the pandemic broke out.
Care is not an intrinsic quality of women, but a basic need for all human beings. Due to the social construction of gender, the cultural mandate has historically imposed on them the role of caregivers and has been distributed in structural conditions of discrimination and inequality, especially among those who belong to marginalized groups such as migrants, indigenous and non-white. In Latin America alone, the United Nations estimates that between 11 and 18 million people are engaged in paid domestic work, of which 93% are women, the vast majority of whom work under informal conditions. In the private sphere, according to Oxfam, women continue performing more than 75% of unpaid care work (Spanish only), with palpable consequences in their unequal access to educational and employment opportunities. Despite this, in 2021 the UNDP estimated (Spanish only) that “measures aimed at women's economic security and addressing unpaid care continue to constitute only a fraction of the total social protection and labor market response”.
In Colombia alone, four out of 10 domestic workers have been left unemployed since the pandemic broke out.
For decades, the feminist movement has called for the need to put paid and unpaid care work at the center of the political agenda, a demand endorsed by international organizations. As a result, there have been important advances such as the adoption of legislative measures in this regard in Uruguay, Argentina and more recently Mexico (references in Spanish only).
However, this task still has a woman's face. On the occasion of March 8th, International Women's Day, feminist organizations of the region articulated around the World Women's Strike to demand a social pact on care and also to make visible that alternatives to the patriarchal and capitalist model that this pandemic has unmasked in all its crudeness are possible.
These are alternatives that come from the communities, particularly from women. Like from Chile, which in the midst of a pandemic has experienced a historic constitutional process that will allow it to get rid of the legacy of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, where more than twenty feminist organizations joined in the project Más que Juanitas (Spanish only). From this text new proposals emerged for the new Constitution to ensure their economic, social, cultural and environmental rights under the premise that there is no "human right that is not potentially affected in some way by the unequal distribution of domestic and care work”.
A score of feminist organizations joined together in the 'More than Juanitas' project in Chile, which resulted in proposals for the new Constitution to ensure women's economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.
From Colombia, where 90% of women dedicate time to unpaid domestic work, popular feminist movements propose a social, political and economic reorganization that places care, well-being and solidarity as axes of public policies.
A common message resounds from all regions: there is still time to learn from the lessons of this crisis to ask ourselves what society and what future we want for ourselves, for the people we love and also for a planet suffocated by a model of unsustainable growth and exploitation. Thinking about care implies a paradigm shift, and also thinking about our alterity and embracing our vulnerability, the vulnerability of life itself. We all depend on care at some point in our existence, individually but above all, collectively. Because without care, would life be possible?