Special Rapporteur positions unpaid care work as major human rights issue


In her report to the 68th session of the UN General Assembly on 23 October 2013, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, analyses the relationship between unpaid care and poverty, and argues that heavy and unequal care responsibilities are a major barrier to gender equality and to women’s equal enjoyment of human rights.

Unpaid care work includes a wide spectrum of domestic tasks as well as care for people at home and in the community. The report says that while this form of work is generally not recognized in national accounts and is often undervalued and overlooked by policymakers and legislators, estimates reveal that unpaid care work would constitute between 10 and 50 per cent of GDP if it was assigned a monetary value [1].The report also cites research showing that women and girls spend the most time on such work, which can restrict their education and employment. 

The Special Rapporteur argues that the failure of States to adequately provide, fund, support and regulate care contradicts their human rights obligations by creating and exacerbating inequalities. She provides recommendations to States on how to recognize, value, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work, as well as adjust policies and improve women’s access to services and infrastructure.

“UN Women fully supports all recommendations put forward by the Special Rapporteur in her report,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. “We particularly recognize the need for public policies to position care as a social and collective responsibility rather than an individual problem. UN Women also recommends strengthening capacities of national statistics offices to collect, analyze and disseminate gender-sensitive statistics on women’s unpaid care work in order to increase the recognition of this work and to contribute to gender-sensitive policymaking.”

In May 2013, UN Women supported the organization of the Special Rapporteur’s expert group meeting to guide the direction and content of the present report. The meeting, held in Geneva, brought together experts from civil society, NGOs, UN agencies and academia working in diverse fields and disciplines.

Accelerating women’s economic empowerment is one of UN Women’s main priorities, and programmes to advance rural women’s economic empowerment specifically tackle the impact of unpaid care work on their abilities to take advantage of on- and off-farm employment opportunities. UN Women also advocates for issues related to women’s unpaid care work to be addressed in future global development frameworks, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda.

UN Women’s Knowledge Gateway for Women’s Economic Empowerment is currently hosting an e-discussion on “Unequal unpaid care work keeps rural women poor and violates their rights - how do we respond?” (15-25 October), moderated by the UN Special Rapporteur and other experts.

[1] Debbie Budlender, “The statistical evidence on care and non-care work across six countries”, UNRISD Gender and Development Programme, Paper No. 4, December 2008, and other sources, as cited in the UNSR report, p.3 (footnote 4).