Children's Roles in Social Reproduction: Re-Examining the Discourse on Care through a Child Lens

By Camilletti, Elena; Banati, Prerna et al. | Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal, January 2018 | Go to article overview

Children's Roles in Social Reproduction: Re-Examining the Discourse on Care through a Child Lens


Camilletti, Elena, Banati, Prerna, Cook, Sarah, Law, Social Justice and Global Development Journal


Introduction: Care, gender and children--key debates

Care and domestic work encompasses all activities required to provide goods and services to meet the physical, mental and emotional needs of individuals and households (Himmelweit, 2007). It involves direct interpersonal care, such as bathing and feeding children, but also indirect activities, such as cooking, fetching water and collecting fuel, essential for the daily household 'social reproduction' (Razavi, 2007; Elson 2000; ILO, 2016; Esquivel, 2014; Laslett and Brenner, 1989; UNRISD, 2016). It can also include 'passive' activities, for instance supervising a young child (Budlender, 2008). When unpaid, it is generally performed by women within the household or community. Different care and domestic activities require different degrees of time and physical, emotional and mental energy, depending on the individuals who carry them out, for whom, where and under what circumstances. In low-resource settings, such as in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where services and infrastructure to support social reproduction are scarce and unequally distributed, normal daily care activities can require significantly more time and energy than in higher-income settings (UN Women, 2015).

The issue of care and domestic work has been gaining prominence on national and global policy agendas over recent decades. This is particularly due to research by feminist scholars demonstrating that across contexts women bear the burden of unpaid household care and domestic work, and that they are also over-represented in the paid care and domestic sectors (UN Women, 2015; UN, 2017; Elson, 2000; Razavi, 2007; Esquivel, 2014). Given the nature of care responsibilities, and the social obligations linked to marriage or family relations that give rise to them, feminist researchers have stressed that these responsibilities should be considered as work. Analyses of time use data show women on average spend 2.5 times more time on care and domestic work than men (UN, 2017), and when added to paid work, women spend more time working than men (Budlender, 2008; Razavi, 2007; Elson, 2000). This is due to a range of factors including labour market conditions, scarce social infrastructure and services, including care services, as well as social and gender norms that place major care responsibilities primarily on women.

This work translates into economic contributions by women both at the household and macroeconomic levels. At the macroeconomic level, the production of goods for own household use, such as fetching water and collecting fuel, are considered economic activities, and (theoretically, though not always in practice) included in the UN System of National Accounts (SNA), the internationally agreed standard for measuring national economic activity forming the basis for GDP calculations (Budlender, 2010). By contrast, the unpaid production of services for own household use are included in the non-SNA general production boundary, and thus excluded from GDP calculations (Elson, 2000). Thus although women contribute through their unpaid care and domestic work to the economy, this contribution is largely unrecognised. Yet, estimates by feminist researchers indicate that women's care and domestic work can be equal up to 50 percent of GDP in countries such as Australia (Esquivel, 2014, 2013; Sepulveda, 2013).

Feminist researchers have warned that due to these responsibilities, women can experience 'time poverty', lacking time for rest and leisure, and participation in the social, political and economic life of their communities (Antonopolous, Masterson, Zacharias, 2012; Esquivel, 2014). These responsibilities may also prevent them from gaining access to formal employment, and as a consequence they may face unemployment, underemployment or informal, low-paid jobs, with limited labour rights or access to social protection (Antonopoulos, 2009; Addati and Cassirer, 2008). These challenges are exacerbated by the lack of investments in public services or infrastructure, as well as by cuts in public expenditures on social benefits and services under austerity policies following economic crises (ILO, 2016). …

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