Reproductive and care functions: from caring to sharing
Women’s productive and reproductive roles are often described as being ‘in conflict’, as women’s increasing labour force participation has not automatically resulted in fundamental change in their childcare and domestic responsibilities. Gender stereotypes regarding women’s roles both at work and at home constrain their work opportunities and perpetuate the socio-economic model of a male breadwinner – a model which is no longer the reality in many developing and developed countries. Whilst maternity leave and part time work policies have allowed mothers to retain their participation in the workforce, they have also contributed to occupational gender segregation and discrimination, rather than triggering the labour force to adapt to working mothers’ unique needs and constraints. The extension of formal childcare arrangements is welcome but largely falls short of what is required to comply with actual workforce conditions and hours, thereby limiting women’s work opportunities. With women comprising a significant proportion of vulnerable workers in the formal and informal economies, many mothers lack basic rights to care and provide for their families. Women’s unpaid work remains unacknowledged and unaccounted for in labour and social protection policies, and women continue to be the primary care givers to children at home, in addition to the main providers of both formal and informal childcare arrangements.
Women’s choices (or lack thereof) regarding work, fertility and childcare differ between regions, countries and cultures. However, in all countries, women carry a disproportionate shouldering of the care burden. Women will continue to care, but the burden must be shared. Efforts to balance responsibilities between men and women, mothers and fathers, governments and citizens, are necessary conditions for gender equality and decent work for women, in all stages of life. However, labour policies are not always the drivers of social change. Greater sharing of responsibilities in child care and in the household depends on greater awareness and appreciation of such work. Governments can take the lead in this by providing extensive and suitable childcare options for working mothers and acknowledging and valuing the hidden role of other women (and girls) in the care of children.