Care Paid and Unpaid: Social, Economic and Human Rights Concerns

by Dr Joan

Attempts to achieve gender equity have reached a new high water mark and the recognition and redistribution of care, both paid and unpaid, stands at the centre of this arena. The Australian secretariat – Economic Security 4 Women – have produced landmark reports, both scoping and quantifying the value of the ‘care economy’ and, more recently, Professor Marilyn Waring addressed the topic of care and dignity in the annual Pamela Denoon Lecture Series. Here below are key points from these papers and central messages made by Waring.

Two significant Australian reports on the care economy have been produced over recent years: Scoping the Australian Care Economy A Gender Perspective (2010) and Counting on Care Work in Australia (2012). These projects are concerned with the lifelong economic well-being of women. Though they are particular to Australia and reference local government policies, programs and strategies, they draw from an international body of research and deal with common concerns.

The first report references the importance of data collection and brings attention to landmark work in the Massachusetts case study that used United States Census and Time Use data to measure both paid and unpaid care work [1]. The author Valerie Adams notes tensions between unpaid work, voluntary work and paid work. She draws attention to the ‘relational’ nature of care work, and references the concept of ‘provisioning’ for human need. The report used the notion of ‘care work’ to depict both the paid and unpaid sectors. Adams considers definitions and current issues in the Australian care economy. She surveys relevant government policy and makes numerous recommendations for further research and data collection.

Counting on Care Work in Australia (2012) further develops this arena by quantifying the value of the paid and unpaid care sectors to the Australian economy. In 2009-10 twenty per cent of all paid employment in Australia was in the care sector. Care workers receive 96 cents for every dollar earned by the average Australian worker, and female workers earn on average 84 cents in the dollar to male care workers. The report valued the unpaid care sector at $650 billion with sixty per cent of this contribution being made by women aged 25 to 64. The report furthermore outlined and quantified government investment in the care sector. The authors make recommendations for further work in light of: demographic change; inter-generational concerns; and the continuing economic and life course implications for women.

Marilyn Waring prefaced her recent lecture Care and Dignity: Major challenges to economics and human rights (transcript and video available online: with the proposition that over millennia care has been the primary responsibility of women. She has changed her emphasis since the publication of Counting for Nothing: What men value and what women are worth (1988) [2] and now frames these concerns within a Human Rights perspective.

Waring raised problems for the use of ‘care’ as an analytical category, arguing that most often carers are responsible for a myriad of associated tasks that could be lost through a continuing association with unpaid work. Nevertheless, drawing from studies from British Colombia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the United Kingdom, she sets out a strident case whereby the human rights of care givers are being flouted. She and others set up a questionnaire for a Commonwealth report drawing from Amartya Sen’s capability approach to human rights which references choice, rest, health, meals, work and political involvement, and found multiple breeches.

With governments around the world withdrawing from social and welfare programs these kind of arguments are critical if we aren’t going to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’. Care, both paid and unpaid, are clearly significant to the health and well-being of the community, but further to this gender equality will remain allusive if we don’t see transformational change. Unfortunately the issues are complex and though there is increasing reference to the work of unpaid care in terms of achieving gender equity, there is a need to bolster and popularize the debates.


[1] Albelda, R., Duffy, M., Folbre, N. (2009), Counting on Care Work: Human Infrastructure in Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, MA, Massachusetts

[2] In a recent anthology, Counting on Marilyn Waring: New Advances in Feminist Economics, edited by Margunn Bjornholt and Ailsa McKay, 31 authors from nine countries outline the wide ranging impact and resonance of Professor Waring’s work as well as the current frontiers of feminist economics.



Cycles of Care: Reflections on Strangeness

We recently held a fantastic event at Queen Mary School of Law in London, with presentations from a number of individuals based on the chapters they have written for our forthcoming edited collection. The papers highlighted how care operates in a wide range of contexts (Ireland-UK abortion travel; HIV/AIDs care in Africa; UK mental capacity regulation; parental leave regulation in Europe; carer regulation in the UK) and spaces (e.g. the home; older age residential care provision; provision for individuals with cognitive disabilities; rural communities; homeless street life; animal rescue centres) in many different ways (informal/formal; voluntary/paid; a blurring of each) and with different actors (e.g. human, animal, environment). Despite, or perhaps because of, this spread of spaces, places and players, a number of fascinating shared themes emerged, one of which, highlighted in particular by participant Donatella Alessandrini was that of strangeness, ‘strangering’ and unfamiliarity.

Ruth Fletcher spoke about stranger-care in the context of abortion travel, locating her analysis in the context of Sarah Ahmed’s work on strangeness (1); Sue Westwood spoke about the feared spatial dislocation into older age care spaces of strangeness and exclusion which concern older lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people; Abigail Baim-Lance spoke about degrees of stranger care in local and extended communities, and the tensions which can exist between formal and informal stranger care; Rosie Harding spoke about the current constructions of UK mental capacity legislation which positions the individual as separate from, and almost a stranger to, her/his personal community/social network; Marie Fox spoke of the abandonment of animals by humans who are not strangers to them, and their care (even at the point of euthanasia) by humans who are; and Helen Carr spoke about companion animals and homeless individuals in the context of the ‘otherness’ of street life. All of these papers spoke to the importance of relationality, context, and the power dynamics which can operate in situations of both strangeness and familiarity.

At the same time the theme of resistance to strangeness also emerged. Ruth Fletcher showed how hosts of Irish women travelling to the UK for an abortion sought to make them welcome and at ease in their own homes and how supporters sought to make the process less unfamiliar (and so less daunting to them). Abigail Baim-Lance spoke of the control of state healthcare systems of informal community carers and the resistance of individuals with HIV/AIDS and their families to the use of formal medication regimes with the use of alternative (ineffective) herbal medicines. Marie Fox spoke of the resistance by volunteers in animal rescue shelters who try and rehome homeless dogs who would otherwise be put down. Helen Carr spoke of how companion animals and homeless individuals can become ‘home’ to one another and as such resist traditional, materialistic, notions of home. Rosie Harding proposed a return to relationally in mental capacity legislation, resisting notions of the autonomous adult. Sue Westwood suggested that a combination of the power dynamics of older age care spaces and age-related dependency upon others placed constraints on older LGB individuals’ capacity to resist heteronormativity and homophobia.

Each of these papers demonstrated in different ways how caring can be both a response to and resistance of strangeness, the unfamiliar, powerlessness and oppression. Marie Fox spoke, at the end of the day, about a man responsible for killing homeless dogs. She described how he both demonstrated a lack of care in his attitude towards killing them, yet a presence of care and compassion in how he did so, and a striking presence of care in how their bodies were incinerated afterwards, being concerned about its implications for our humanity and humane-ness. Marie’s paper highlighted the complexities of care and caring and how it can be a layered and nuanced thing, one which also requires – as all the papers at the event showed – similarly layered and nuanced analyses.

Ahmed, S. (2000) Strange encounters: Embodied others in post-coloniality. Psychology Press.

Revaluing Care Workshop 2: September 2013, University of Adelaide, Australia.

At the beginning of September 2013 our Revaluing Care network had its second workshop, following an earlier workshop at Keele University, UK, in September 2012. This second meeting over two days at the University of Adelaide, in South Australia was marked by its attention to analytical concerns that had been raised in the 2012 session. It was also marked by much convivial discussion over food and wine at the end of each day.

We met in a room with views of the city all around us and, fortunately, the sun shone almost all of the time. What I recall most clearly was the very high standard of the papers, the sense of an extraordinary level of conversation within a group which has now forged a strong identity. The degree of confluence of ideas, of substantive and strongly supportive debate was striking. It is rare to attend such an event and feel constantly engaged by an extremely stimulating exchange of views. The event was both inclusive and demanding in the very best sense.

The workshop looked at a wide variety of existing services around care and their impacts on social interconnection (such as services around HIV/AIDs, young people and dementia care), as well as a range of existing legal and policy frameworks. This international orientation informed extensive discussion around new ways of conceiving care (for instance, in relation to social activism, migration and cross-national mobilities). However, it also enabled us to consider where the term care begins to fall away, or seems insufficiently recognised or activated. Consequently there was a significant interchange over the two days concerning the analytical and practical boundaries of care (for example, in relation to sexualities, diverse families, the notion of the human, marginalised services and public institutions seemingly distant from care including parliaments and courts).

These deliberations led to a range of theoretical and terminological discussions around the continuing usefulness of the notion of care, around what it covers and its limits.

The success of the workshop was not only evident in the strengthening of the network as an active, participatory and supportive research community, but also obvious in the final discussions around building research teams, projects and publications across the world and across disciplinary constraints. We aim as a result to produce articles, books of collected works, and grant applications. Many of these aims are now in process. The group was also firmly of the view that further workshops would be very worthwhile and assist in the development of these aims. So, watch this space.

In sum, I can only say that I, for one, gained immensely from the workshop and now have an even stronger sense of the considerable research capabilities of the group. This is a group with much to gain from our continuing association! It is one of the few research clusters that I have been involved in which shows ongoing promise of generating important intellectual exchanges and innovative new work .

Professor Chris Beasley

Discipline of Politics & International Studies (POLIS)
School of Politics and History
Co-Director, The Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender

‘Contemporary Narratives of Care’ call for papers posted on behalf of Parvati Raghuram

Contemporary Narratives of Care
(Fri 25 October 2013; Birkbeck, University of London)

Call For Papers Deadline: 16 August 2013 This symposium seeks to bring together scholars, creative writers and medical practitioners interested in, and working on, the issue of care within the rapidly growing field of medical humanities. It will incorporate both professional and non-professional care (between intimate others, such as parents and children, partners, siblings or friends) primarily but not exclusively relating to illness, disability, the young and the elderly. It will focus on narratives and representations of care in contemporary literature and life-writing. How do these texts give form and meaning to the psychosocial impact of caregiving – or its failure? What kind of theoretical framework(s) may be useful in reading such narratives/representations?

Open to all disciplines and theoretical approaches, the symposium welcomes proposals for 20-minute papers or more informal, 10-minute descriptions of your field and research/work.
Topics for papers might include, but are certainly not limited to:
• What constitutes ‘care’?
• The role of language and/or literary form in representing care; • Carers as writers and/or as literary subjects; • Different forms of care, such as life-long care, terminal care, curative care; • The experience of caregiving; • The experience of receiving care; • Moral philosophy/ethics of care; • Psychoanalysis; • Emotions and affects; • The politics of care: gender, ‘race’, class, sexuality; • Human relationality/the impact of care on intimacy; • Violence and care; • The role of religion, secularization and individualism; • The failure of care.

Please send a max. 300-word abstract or max. 150-word description of your field/research/work and a max. 50-word biography to> by 16 August 2013.
The symposium is free and all are welcome. To register please email>.