The need to rebuild the social organization of care has become more urgent during the covid-19 pandemic: women around the world have been forced to take on even more responsibility for the work of caring for their families, children, the elderly, the sick, people with disabilities etc. amidst the confinement measures needed to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus.
How to set this reconstruction in motion was the focal point of the webinar "Beijing+25 and the future of care" held on March 30 as a side event to the Generation Equality Forum (GEF) organized by UN Women. The presentations all confirmed that it is only through a comprehensive economic and political perspective that changes the current economic model and strengthens public care services financed by the adoption of fair and progressive tax systems that fundamental change will be possible. Only in this way we can achieve adequate remuneration for workers in this largely female sector and reduce the burden of unpaid care work of women.
The event was organized by Public Services International (PSI) in alliance with the Center for Economic and Social Rights, Dawn - Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era, Womankind Worldwide, Global Alliance for Tax Justice, ActionAid, and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Participants debated the issue of care in the context of progress and setbacks in the implementation of public policies for women and girls in line with the objectives of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
How to start the rebuilding of the organization of care was the main focus of this webinar held virtually on March 30 as a parallel event to the Generation of Equality Forum organized by UN Women.
Beijing+25 and the Future of Care (English)
Created at the Fourth World Conference on Women held in China in 1995, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted by 189 governments that committed to act in 12 areas: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, economics, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms, human rights, media, environment, and children.
In addition to these issues, participants articulated their concern with the corporate capture of care services and the legitimization of the private sector as an actor in care services, a situation that unfortunately can be observed both in the Equality Generation Forum and in the agreed conclusion of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW65), where the importance of the public sector in guaranteeing the provision of care services is not included.
The need to radically alter the prevailing macroeconomic policies in favor of a model based on rights - with the human right to care at the center - in a sustainable economy that considers the limits of the planet, and in the visibility of the multiple intersectional discriminations that women may suffer, to generate a policy that really changes these structural inequalities present in our societies was also highlighted.
Focus on the crisis of care
PSI General Secretary Rosa Pavanelli shared her reflections after a brief introduction by Elisa Gomez, FES Mexico; Gabriel Casnati, PSI Latin America Tax Justice and Trade project coordinator; and Maria Lourdes Zea, leader of the National Autonomous University of Mexico Workers Union (STUNAM) and member of the PSI World Women's Committee (WOC).
Pavanelli highlighted the PSI study "Fiscal policies, public services and the Beijing agenda for women's rights", which analyzes the cases of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Peru which analyzes the possibility of adopting fair tax policies in order to finance quality public services that contribute to achieving the objectives proposed in the Beijing Platform for Action. "This study has shown how regressive tax policies and practices such as tax evasion and avoidance, can be a brake on financing the development of public policies for equality," she said. According to Pavanelli, public financing of care systems is central to the implementation of the Beijing Platform.
"We do not know how the Equality Generation Forum will end-up, both this one in Mexico and what will take place in Paris in the coming months, but if we fail to have a central focus on the care crisis, and on the importance of care in establishing fairer, more inclusive societies that value the role of women and equality, I think it will be difficult to think that Beijing+25 can provide a positive outcome for the situation of women," concluded Pavanelli, pointing out the importance of disseminating the manifesto in favor of rebuilding the social organization of care prepared by PSI and allied organizations.
Beijing, care and fiscal policies
The first block of the webinar, "Beijing+25, crisis of care and illicit financial flows", was moderated by Carolina Espinoza, leader of the National Confederation of Municipal Health Workers (CONFUSAM) of Chile, member of the PSI Interamerica Women's Committee and vice-president of PSI’s World Women's Committee (WOC). Espinoza described the current situation of worsening conditions for gender inequality due to the pandemic and stressed the importance of adopting the five Rs proposed by the campaign for the reconstruction of the organization of care to not only generate co-responsibility for this work in families but also for the State to take responsibility for the provision of care systems that allow the liberation of women for public and social life.
Corina Rodríguez, member of the Executive Committee of Women for an Alternative Development for a New Era (DAWN) and researcher at the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Public Policies (CIEPP), Argentina, presented the results of the study mentioned by Rosa Pavanelli: "Fiscal policies, public services and the Beijing agenda for women's rights". Rodríguez, one of the authors of this study, stated that since the launch of the Beijing Platform for Action in Latin America there has been both progress and setbacks in the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls.
Although there has been progress in the consolidation of regulatory frameworks for the protection and expansion of these rights, at the same time there has been a reduction in the resources allocated to public policies in this area, caused by regressive tax structures, loss of tax resources and the advance of conservative forces in the region. Rodríguez argued that it is essential to expand financing mechanisms, make tax systems more progressive and prevent illicit flows of money.
It is essential to expand financing mechanisms, make tax systems more progressive and prevent illicit flows of money.
Kate Lappin, PSI regional secretary for Asia and the Pacific, analyzed the privatization of elderly care services based on case studies from Canada and Australia. According to her, the privatization and financialization of these services negatively impacts the entire community, but particularly women, because once health and care become more inaccessible, women are forced to fill the care gap. Moreover, privatization results in intensification of exploitation in a largely female sector.
Lappin revealed evidence of a connection between the privatization of elderly care services and increases in mortality, both before and during the pandemic. According to Lappin, it’s clear that many of the companies investing in care services use tax havens and tax avoidance strategies.
Roosje Saalbrink, from Womankind Worldwide, presented the report "Feminist movements and the Beijing vision". For Saalbrink, the ambitions of the Beijing Platform have not been achieved over the last 26 years, but rather growing fundamentalism and the neoliberal model adopted on a global scale have undermined women's rights and exacerbated gender inequality.
Saalbrink also pointed out that the setbacks in the Beijing agenda are related to the unprecedented expansion of the power of multinational corporations and the lack of accountability of these companies with respect to human rights. Corporate capture of governments makes the latter prioritize the interests of MNCs over human life. Further, recognition of the multiple discriminations that poor women, racialized women, LGBT+, disabled women, etc. can suffer must be at the heart of gender inclusion.
Actions towards the future of care
The second block of the webinar, "Joining forces to shape the future of care," was moderated by Jillian Bartlett, president of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers (NUGFW), Trinidad and Tobago, co-chair of the PSI Interamerica Regional Women's Committee and member of PSI’s World Women's Committee (WOC). Bartlett detailed the five Rs of the campaign to rebuild the social organization of care.
Caroline Othim, Africa Policy and Campaigns Coordinator for the Global Alliance for Tax Justice (GATJ) explained that a feminist perspective on taxation is needed to end the gender inequalities fueled by current national tax systems based on collection rather than redistribution.
According to Othim, the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need to rebuild the social organization of care, and only feminist economic models can reduce women's time spent on care, provide social protection, and enforce tax justice that allows states to provide public care services that enable women to participate in other political and social activities. Progressive reform of the tax system, Othim said, includes an end to tax havens and tax abuses, as well as the establishment of a global tax body.
Progressive reform of the tax system includes an end to tax havens and tax abuses, as well as the establishment of a global tax body.
Kate Donald, Program Director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), presented the report "A Rights-Based Economy," connecting this proposal to the Beijing Platform for Action. In a rights-based economy built as a counter position to the current neoliberal model, success is not individual, but means providing a dignified life, solidarity instead of competition, and respecting the limits of the planet, promoting economic and environmental justice. In this sense, care provided by the State is at the center of the model and is not considered as a commodity or privilege, explained Donald, who presented a video on this proposal.
Neelanjana Mukhia, Action Aid's Director of Global Engagement, presented the report "Who cares for the future". She analyzed the impact of the new debt crisis caused by the pandemic in the Global South, resulting from the conditionalities imposed by international financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the negative effects of regressive macroeconomic fiscal policies on women's paid and unpaid work and, by extension, on the fulfillment of a wide range of women's rights. According to Mukhia, many governments are spending more on debt service payments than on health and education. Eighty percent of low and middle-income countries, will not be able to increase the number of public workers, thus making a rebuilding of the social organization of care impossible.
PSI’s Global Equality Officer, Verónica Montúfar concluded the meeting by synthesizing the main issues addressed during the webinar and emphasized the need to build a global movement that makes it possible to think about the transformation of the dominant discourses and to make the human right to care become a reality.