In the latest blog in our series around the first UN International Day of Care, Cristina Rovira Izquierdo sets out how LAC countries are leading the way on care-friendly policies – and calls on the EU to forge a partnership with them to reshape women’s lives across both regions.
Care work is what enables us to live in dignity, sustaining our economies and societies. Unpaid and paid care work, such as looking after older people, preparing meals, taking care of the home and the immediate environment, washing clothes, or looking after children, allows us all to survive, work and thrive. And we finally have an international day, endorsed by the United Nations, which recognises it: 29th October.
But a UN day alone, though welcome, is not enough. We need firm commitments, backed by budgets and political will, to move towards societies that recognise and make care visible. Policies that redistribute the care work that falls unfairly on women and girls across the world. We need the right to care to be recognised not only symbolically with a date on the calendar, but with policies that make that right a reality for everyone, not just the privileged few who can afford it.
Latin America leads the way
The recent Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean in Buenos Aires in November 2022 saw regional leaders commit to implementing comprehensive care systems.
Some of the most noteworthy agreements under the Buenos Aires declaration include recognising care as a right, both to provide and receive care, as well as to exercise self-care, based on principles of equality, universality, and co-responsibility by all sectors of society. To achieve these goals, they should be backed by regulatory frameworks and comprehensive care policies, systems and services that ensure a gender, intersectional, intercultural and human rights perspective.
The declaration also emphasises the importance of progressive fiscal policies that go hand in hand with the deployment of care policies. Progressive fiscal policies should ensure the allocation of budgets with a gender perspective; and mobilize the maximum available resources to ensure sustainable public investment over time for universal care policies and infrastructure.
Finally, the declaration also highlights the importance of promoting “measurements of well-being that complement gross domestic product, and which ensure that care work is made visible and valued” in economic metrics. This mirrors a key demand from Oxfam for countries to move beyond GDP to more feminist , decolonial and climate-just economic measures.
EU follows with targets on childcare and long-term care
Meanwhile, the European Union has moved forward with a European Care Strategy, which calls for the deployment of measures for long-term care, accompanied by recommendations to review the coverage and quality of early childhood education and long-term care services. These include new targets for 2030 to see 50% of children below the age of 3 in early childhood education and care; and 96% of children between the age of 3 and the starting age for compulsory primary education to be in early childhood education and care.
However, the European Care Strategy should have a broader scope, going beyond a welfare approach and incorporating the right to care as a guiding policy principle and addressing the diversity of care needs at every stage of life. The EU and its member states must develop comprehensive, sustainable, universal care systems, and provide them with sufficient resources. Further, the strategy fails to propose measures to encourage cultural change to tackle harmful social norms and the unfair distribution and invisibility of care. Finally, the EU must take steps to ensure decent conditions for all workers in the care sector. All of this requires appealing to the shared responsibility of governments, businesses and civil society.
Time for a bi-regional care pact to help shape the global policy agenda
These are important steps, but we need renewed impetus to strengthen budgets and resources to roll out the right to care universally across both regions. We need strategies to address the diversity of care in all its forms and to recognise the decisive role that community care plays. It is also important to respond decisively to the challenge of changing mindsets and attitudes that leave care work invisible, feminised and racialised.
As we can see above, this is a policy area where Latin America and the Caribbean is leading the way and can share lessons with its European counterparts. Cooperation between the two regions can allow both regions to move forward together and place care at the centre of the global political agenda.
This is why Oxfam and our allies in LAC and in UN Women are calling for a bi-regional pact for care, to reduce gender inequalities both in Latin America and in Europe.
This bi-regional pact can lay the foundations for cooperation in knowledge creation and in public policies around care. We now need the EU to make a clear commitment to such a pact, with sufficient budget behind it to promote a bi-regional feminist and care cooperation agenda. The lives and livelihoods of millions of women in both regions depend on it.
This is the third in a series of blogs about care around the International Day of Care and Support on October 29
 Oxfam (2023) Rising to the Challenge: Leading the European Union in the face of global social economic and climate crises. Oxfam’s recommendations for the Spanish EU Presidency (July-December 2023)