The Political and Social Economy of Care in a Development Context: Conceptual Issues, Research Questions and Policy Options
Care (whether paid or unpaid) is crucial to human well-being and to the pattern of economic development. Some analysts emphasize the significance of care for economic dynamism and growth. Others see care in much larger terms, as part of the fabric of society and integral to social development. Citizenship rights, the latter argue, have omitted the need to receive and to give care. To overcome the gender bias that is deeply entrenched in systems of social protection and to make citizenship truly inclusive, care must become a dimension of citizenship with rights that are equal to those that are attached to employment.
How problems of care are addressed by society has important implications for the achievement of gender equality, by either broadening the capabilities and choices of women and men, or confining women to traditional roles associated with femininity and motherhood. How care is addressed is at the same time inextricably intertwined with other structures of inequality, especially race and social class. Historically and across a diverse range of countries, women from disadvantaged racial and ethnic groups have tended to provide care services to meet the needs of the more powerful social groups, while their own needs for care have been downplayed and neglected. Analyses of care that falsely homogenize women’s interests are thus deeply problematic.
This paper traces the evolution of ideas in the area of gender and care, and analyses some of the main strands of thinking that have contributed to this ongoing debate. The effort to review the literature is far from exhaustive, and it is also biased toward connecting gender analyses of care in developing countries to some of the conceptual and theoretical work on care that, for the most part, takes the developed capitalist economies as its point of reference.