Unpaid care work blocks women’s rights if not shared by men and States – UN expert

NEW YORK / GENEVA (24 October 2013) – Unpaid care work such as cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly entrenches women’s poverty and social exclusion when it is not socially recognized and shared, warned the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda.

“Care should be a social and collective responsibility, rather than fall entirely on women’s shoulders”, Ms. Sepúlveda said last night during the presentation of her latest report* to the UN General Assembly in New York. “I call on States to recognize unpaid care work as a major human rights issue.”

“Unpaid care work is at the foundation of all our societies, and crucial for economic growth and social development,” she noted. “However, it has been mostly overlooked or taken for granted by policy makers. This has an enormous impact on women’s poverty and their enjoyment of rights – as they do the majority of unpaid care.”

The report shows that in both developed and developing countries, women work longer hours than men when unpaid work is taken into account, but receive lower earnings and less recognition - especially women living in poverty.

“Heavy and unequal care responsibilities are a major barrier to gender equality, taking up women’s time and denying their equal enjoyment of rights to education, decent work, health and participation among others,” she stressed.

“In order to truly empower women, we must ensure that unpaid care is better valued, supported and shared – by men and the State,” the UN Special Rapporteur underscored.

Ms. Sepúlveda’s report outlines States’ obligations to tackle the unequal distribution of care under existing human rights agreements. Above all, she recommends that States “ensure that the necessary public services and infrastructure – including childcare, healthcare, water and energy provision - are in place to support care, especially in disadvantaged areas.”

“For the sake of human rights and equitable, sustainable development, we cannot afford to ignore unpaid care work,” she warned, while stressing that the post-2015 development agenda must include commitments on unpaid care.

“Tackling the unequal distribution of unpaid work between men and women is an essential step toward achieving gender equality,” UN Special Rapporteur highlighted.

Magdalena Sepúlveda (Chile) was appointed the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in May 2008 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. She has extensive experience in economic, social and cultural rights and holds a PhD in international human rights law from Utrecht University. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/SRExtremePovertyIndex.aspx

(*) Check the report: http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?si=A/68/293

Check the Special Rapporteur’s “Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty” (in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx

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In Geneva: Bárbara Mateo (+ 41 22 917 9281 / bmateo@ohchr.org) or write to srextremepoverty@ohchr.org

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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