A care approach, the key for economic recovery in Latin America

When schools closed due to the pandemic, María left her job in a legal office in Bogotá to take care of her and her sisters’ children, who works as a nurse. María hoped she could work part-time from home, but for several months, at the end of the day, after supporting remote education and homework, cooking, and cleaning the house, she has no time or energy for other activities.

This is one story, but there are millions of them in Latin America and around the world. It illustrates one of the impacts caused by the Covid-19 crisis. However, the challenge and its causes are not new. It is a known reality that is easily forgotten and often hidden: The current care model, based on families and supported by the unpaid and disproportionate work of the women in the household, is not sustainable. The overload of care work hinders the participation of women in economic, political, and social settings. Before the pandemic, women did three times more domestic and care work than men on average in Latin America. Low-income women do more relative to men than higher-income peers.  Work and imbalance have increased significantly due to confinement.

Latin America’s economic recovery and growth depend on incorporating a care lens into reconstruction plans and greater investment in care systems. Today, the call to action is more evident and more urgent than ever.

Latin America has made significant progress on gender issues in recent years. There is growing recognition of the value and economic and social imperative and return of investing in women. Gender inclusion has taken an important place on the public sector’s agendas and has translated into concrete equality plans and legal reforms. It has also been more present in the strategies and initiatives from the private sector. For example, in Mexico, companies and private sector associations representing 80% of GDP joined the Target Gender Equality initiative from the UN Global Compact.

However, 2020 made it clear that this progress is not enough and is at high risk of fading away. After just a few months, the pandemic generated a reduction in women’s participation in labor and education. The female labor participation decreased in the region by six percentage points compared to 2019, reaching a rate of 15.2% regionally (weighted average). Other challenges, such as domestic violence, have also significantly increased in the region. The impact of the pandemic has begun to be called “shecession” due to its much larger impact on women.

The region needs to expand how it applies a gender lens and adopt a care lens across all areas of public policy. A care lens begins by recognizing and valuing the care responsibilities that fall on women and girls. It focuses on expanding public, private, and community services for the dependent population and thus reduces the expectations that today solely fall on families. A care lens builds upon existing social and economic programs to promote equity and adapts them to better support the needs of caregivers (who are predominantly women): bringing the services closer to home, providing them at times that do not conflict with care responsibilities, adapting the contents and including society-wide programming to change the current care paradigm.

Investing in care makes economic sense to drive overall growth and the well-being of the population. Research from the ITU has shown that investing in public care services can create quality jobs, many of those for currently low-income women, and narrow the gender pay gap. It would also contribute to overall inclusive economic growth through the knock-on effects on other industries and expansion in household income. Furthermore, the new workers engaged in the care economy would increase tax revenue as they move away from informal job markets.

Construction of comprehensive care systems represents an opportunity for inclusive recovery in Latin America. A care system entails a group of systemic and collective solutions that guarantee that care needs throughout peoples’ lives are met, and provided in co-responsibility by the state, the private sector, the community, and the family and not through the unpaid work of women. It is estimated that offering access to childcare services increases the probability that a mother in Latin America will enter the labor market by between 2% and 22%. Reducing care responsibilities also impacts the quality of female employment, as high loads of care lead to women choosing part-time employment or occupations below their skill level. Furthermore, it gives women agency to choose how they spend their time. Investing in care is beginning to gain traction in the region, with great examples in places like Uruguay and Argentina.  Bogotá has recently joined the select group.

In September 2020, the Women’s Secretary in Bogotá launched the District Care System (SIDICU), one of the most important efforts at the regional level to address the root causes of the challenges that care creates for women. SIDICU’s mission is to provide care services to meet the demands and needs of caregivers and dependent populations, including children under 5 years of age, people with disabilities, and older adults who require high levels of support. These services are offered through territorial services articulated through “Manzanas del Cuidado”, spaces that concentrate the offer of services from and for caregivers, mobile units, and domestic services, as well as general district services. Thanks to SIDICU, now for a few hours every day, María’s children participate in recreational activities at the newly opened care center in Bogota, giving her free time to work, get educated, or rest.

SIDICU has succeeded in including a care approach into a wide range of services already offered by the district, and it represents a transformative effort, not only for expanding care options but for putting caregivers at the center. It also applies a systemic approach that incorporates training, care relief, and cultural change and that will strengthen all efforts to promote equity and inclusion in Bogotá. In Dalberg, we have been able to support the District System of Care’s implementation with the design of an operational and financial model as part of our broader work and agenda around valuing care. The SIDICU will continue its implementation in 2021.

These examples already demonstrate that investing in recognizing, reducing, and redistributing care burdens can generate a virtuous circle for the entire population. The care economy represents a direct and indirect generator of employment, diversifies the productive structure, improves the educational level of the workforce, strengthens social protection systems, and thus makes it easier for other sectors of the economy to function properly. Care systems are an accelerator of equitable economic growth.


Dalberg uses cookies and related technologies to improve the way the site functions. A cookie is a text file that is stored on your device. We use these text files for functionality such as to analyze our traffic or to personalize content. You can easily control how we use cookies on your device by adjusting the settings below, and you may also change those settings at any time by visiting our privacy policy page.