Is The ‘Care Economy' Immunised Against The Pandemic?

It is no doubt that the crisis has affected the socio-economic fabric of the country.

Even as the second wave of the pandemic has begun to rescind itself in majority parts of India, the predictions of an even deadlier third wave, with children as the main sufferers, continues to loom large over the population. Vaccinating a billion people with two doses of a vaccine would prove to be a humongous challenge, even for a developed country. 

While the production & distribution of our two home-grown vaccines is expected to ease out, it may a while before the country achieves herd immunity and have the majority vaccinated. This situation screams out for scientific innovation which would prove to be the catalyst in the on-going process of inoculation & moreover, help us prevent the third wave. 

It is no doubt that the crisis has affected the socio-economic fabric of the country. But, when we talk about “economy”, what do we think about? We think about jobs, infrastructure, the expenditure & consumption, export-import, GDP of the country. Often we make the mistake of omitting the most important pillar of our economy; the care economy, a sector responsible for the provision of care and services that contribute to the nurturing and reproduction of current and future populations. More specifically, it involves child care, elder care, education, healthcare, and personal social and domestic services that are provided in both paid and unpaid forms and within formal and informal sectors. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) calculates that on average women around the world perform 4 hours and 25 minutes of unpaid care work every day which is more than 75% of what men contribute.

In this context, how will nasal vaccine or any scientific innovation accelerate attainment of immunity against the vaccine and help in restructuring the care economy?

The entire argument based upon the above question boils down to the fact as to how has the pandemic affected the women population & how it has fueled a gender-specific care economy scenario. While the COVID-19 crisis has drawn significant attention to women’s role as paid workers in formal health-care systems, a large share of the work also goes into maintaining the health and well-being of children, older persons and other family members is provided on an unpaid basis, even in normal times. With school closures and household isolation, increasingly work of caring for children is moving from the paid (schools, day-care centres and babysitters) to the unpaid economy. And, as access to formal and informal childcare alternatives declines, the rise in demand for unpaid childcare provision is likely to fall more heavily on women, not only because of the existing structure of the workforce but also because of existing social norms.  

The unpaid services which are provided by the women, if calculated for, provides an addition of $1.5 trillion dollars to the global economy according to ILO. With the shrinkage of the labour force of India & the lack of jobs triggered by the pandemic, the women have been majorly impacted. Already, with an approximate 56% reduction in paid jobs for women as per CMIE Feb 2021 data, the growing unpaid care responsibilities will have a negative and measurable effect on women’s participation in the paid economy even as the pandemic is in the retraction stage. This particular shift has not only impacted women economically & financially but has also affected their mental health. According to a large biological study of 11 chronic stress indicators, working mothers with two children were found under 40% more stress than the average person as compared to the pre-pandemic conditions. 

Without doubt the gender-specific roles in the care economy have aggravated in the post- pandemic times. This crisis presents a case for the government to come up with more women friendly schemes that include them at large – whether paid or unpaid. This will not only coursed correct gender inequality, but also “unstereotype” gender roles that play out everywhere.

About the Author - 

Director, IPE Global (think tank international development consulting firm)

Tags assigned to this article:
pandemic COVID-19 Tanya Singh


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