The term unpaid care work encompasses all the daily activities that sustain our lives and health, such as house work (food preparation, cleaning, laundry) and personal care (especially of children, the elderly, people who are sick or have a disability). These activities are most commonly performed by women in the household for free.
According to the United Nations Millennium Campaign to halve world poverty by the year 2015, the overwhelming majority of the work that sustains daily life – growing food, cooking, raising children, caring for the elderly, maintaining a house, hauling water – is performed by women, and this work is universally accorded low status and little or no pay.
The little social and economic value assigned to this work contrasts sharply with its actual importance to families and society at large. In fact, feminist economists have shown that care is the invisible base of the socio-economic system. However, because care work is considered “women’s work” it is mostly unpaid; because it is not assigned a monetary value, it is not measured; because it is not visible, it is not taken into account in policymaking (Orozco 2010).
The Rio+20 Outcome Document recognises for the first time that unpaid care work contributes substantially to human well-being and sustainable developed but poses a disproportionate burden on women and girls (par 153). Unpaid care work supports the market sector by lowering the cost that employers must sustain to maintain employees and their families. It also supports the public sector by offering health services, sanitation, water and child care when public provision of such services is lacking or insufficient.