In Uruguay, care law catalyzes change, ushering services and breaking stereotypes

Uruguay’s Care Act has changed the concept of “care”. Under the new law, all children, persons with disabilities and elderly persons, have the right to get care. The state not only provides care services, but also guarantees their quality by providing training and regulations.

Date:: 28 February 2017

Soledad Rotella and daughter Kiara at the Child and Family Care Center of Tres Ombúes, a neighborhood northwest of Montevideo. Photo: UN Women/Agostina Ramponi
Soledad Rotella and daughter Kiara at the Child and Family Care Center of Tres Ombúes, a neighborhood northwest of Montevideo. Photo: UN Women/Agostina Ramponi

It is the day before the school year begins at the Child and Family Care Centre of Tres Ombúes, a neighborhood west of Montevideo. Soledad Rotella is mother to one of the 89 children in the neighborhood who attend the centre yearly.

Rotella has a 21-year-old son and two daughters aged 20 and 18 years. And then there is Kiara—she is only two years old. "I could not afford to put my older children in daycare because at that time you had to pay for it, so I had to leave them alone,” Soledad recalls. "Sometimes, to bring food to the table, that’s what I had to do."

Now, since quality and free day care is available for Kiara through the Child and Family Care Centre, Soledad Rotella can get a full time job without risking the well-being of her daughter.

Time Use Surveys are tools to create evidence about the inequalities that exist in how different segments of the population use time in their daily lives. These inequalities are barely visible and are seldom valued and compared. However, their impact is significant, since they bring to light the gendered division of labour in families, which is key to understanding the barriers to women’s effective exercise of their rights.

UN Women together with UNFPA and other development agencies, supported time-use surveys in Uruguay in 2007 and 2013, which proved that women spent two-third of their week doing unpaid work, and only one-third on paid work. For men, the reverse applied.

The data catalyzed a policy change: civil society and academia in Uruguay proposed a re-conceptualization of “care” as a collective and societal issue, taking it out of the private and family sphere and positioning it as a human rights issue.

In November, 2015, the Care Act (No. 19,353), a flagship policy of President Tabaré Vázquez, a HeForShe impact champion, was adopted by the Parliament.

According to Mariella Mazzotti, Director of the National Women’s Institute, “Having a care law gives this innovative and transformative policy the sustainability it needs.” Under the new law, all children, persons with disabilities and elderly persons, have the right to get care. The state does not only provide care services, but also guarantees their quality by providing training and regulations.

Research shows that women across the world subsidize care work by quitting paid work to look after children and elderly parents and for managing household chores. Therefore, the availability of affordable and quality care services is key to promoting women’s economic empowerment. It frees up women’s time to participate in paid work, while ensuring child development, and autonomy and rights of all people who need care.

The day care centre of Tres Ombúes is small, but offers different modalities: part time or full time day care for children and weekly workshops for parents, where they learn about child education and development. "We learned so much here,” says Soledad Rotella. “It is an unforgettable experience and I recommend it to all mothers, particularly the younger ones."

Two social educators, a psycho-physical therapist, two teachers, a nutritionist and a psychologist work at the centre. It operates on the same campus as a school and a polyclinic, providing comprehensive services for children and families in the neighbourhood.

Child and Family Care Center of Tres Ombúes, a neighborhood northwest of Montevideo. Photo: UN Women/Agostina Ramponi
Child and Family Care Center of Tres Ombúes, a neighborhood northwest of Montevideo. Photo: UN Women/Agostina Ramponi

"At first, we were the ones who had to go out, find the children and let the people in the neighborhood know that we were here,” states Tatiana Martinez, one of the educators. “Today, the families come to see if there is place left for their children." Another day care centre for the neighbourhood is being planned to meet the rising demand.

Uruguay’s care law also recognizes the right of caregivers to perform their work in dignified conditions and aims to change the prevalent gendered division of labour.

According to the National Secretary of Care of Uruguay, Julio Bango, "the Integrated National Care System is not only about providing certain services, it is part of a cultural battle, a policy to reduce gender inequalities."

“This Integrated National Care System represents a new model for social protection in the 21st century,” says Magdalena Furtado, UN Women Representative in Uruguay. UN Women is currently facilitating dialogues between Uruguay and other countries to promote time use surveys and to inform policies, such as Paraguay and Cape Verde.