As the COVID-19 pandemic crippled the work, the unrecognized work of the caregivers became all the more important and noticeable. However, with several phases of a spike in the virus in the last two years, the importance of the care industry seems to fade yet again. The country's 'care economy' is more or less invisible on paper because of the lack of coherent national policy. For the longest time, a high-tech infrastructure was considered the determining factor to judge the development of a country. However, since the Biden administration took over in America, their jobs plan has put the limelight on another sector- the caregiving economy.
What Is 'Care Work'?
The concept of 'care work' comprises both paid and unpaid work. The International Labor Organization defines two overlapping activities in their definition of care work: direct, personal and relational activities, like caring for children or nursing someone who is ill, and indirect care, which includes activities like cooking and cleaning. Most care workers around the world are women and young girls, and in a majority of the cases, they are not paid for their caregiving services. Investing care economy can yield over 300 million jobs globally.
Whether paid or unpaid and direct or indirect, care work is essential and unavoidable for human well-being and the economy's growth. Unpaid care work is also linked to labour market inequalities. Even though aanganwadi workers and ASHA workers are recognized by the government, they continue to fight for their rights and entitlements as workers. More so, since March 2020, the demand for care workers has gone over the roof. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), India spends less than 1 per cent of their GDP on the care economy. Since most of the workers in the industry are women, they are inevitably the most affected.
Maternity Leave Considered A Human And Labour Right
ILO released a report titled, 'Care at work: Investing care leave and services for a more gender-equal world of work', in which it highlighted the importance of maternity, paternity and special care leave which helps all genders to maintain a work-life balance and share the family responsibilities throughout their lives. In India, about 89 per cent of the employed women are working in the informal sector. Maternity leave is considered a universal human and labour right. However, many countries still do not provide the same, thus leaving women and their families in grave danger of losing their livelihood and lacking personal and professional security.
Surprisingly, India fares considerably better than the rest of the world as it offers 26 weeks of maternity leave compared to the ILO's standard of only 14 weeks, which exists in over 120 countries. However, it is not much of a benefit to Indian women since most of them work in the unorganized sector. In a rather shocking characteristic, even though paternity leave is considered an enabler that can ensure that both the mother and father can balance their professional commitments and family responsibilities, many countries have no such policy.
26 Lakhs Women Domestic Workers
Safe access to quality and affordable caregiving services like childcare, care of the elderly and caring for people with disabilities is a massive challenge that caregivers with family responsibilities face. India has a long history of mandating the provision of creches in factories and other establishments; not much of the groundwork has been done yet. There is significant scope for improvement in the availability, accessibility, affordability and quality of such services. Developed countries recognize childcare and care for the elderly as a professional job. Indian households are heavily dependent on domestic workers, yet, hundreds of households face the challenge of decent work. On the other hand, people seeking employment cannot find any. Government estimates suggest that 26 lakhs out of the total 39 lakh domestic workers are women.
While speaking to The Logical Indian, Dr Ambrish Dharmadhikari, Head Psychiatrist of Mpower Foundation in Mumbai, said, "Caregiving is an essential aspect of the patient's mental health and recovery. A caregiver plays the role of the support system and is also the primary contact for the patient. Caregiving is a very thankless and demanding job. In the Indian setup, Caregiving for women has been a cultural aspect, even if they are working or not working. Women have a more important role to play in Caregiving. They go through a lot of frustration and anger, which could manifest in several ways, making them more vulnerable to depression, anxiety, or adjustment disorder".
Further, he also added that if a mother provides for a child with a disability, the family undergoes the entire trauma together. Even when people visit the doctor, the focus remains on the patient and not the caregiver. India needs to recognize care workers to promote decent work for all, including the domestic workers, to attain their Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which function on 'leave no one behind'. Like all other professionals, caregivers deserve to enjoy fundamental human and worker rights and access fair wages.
What Can Be Done?
Increasing investment in the care industry would open up hundreds of job opportunities and yield benefits for the overall economy. The government must develop strategies and action plans for improved care policies, care service provisions, and ensure decent working conditions. ILO has proposed an action plan of the 5R framework centred around achieving gender equality. The framework urges Recognition, Reduction and the redistribution of unpaid work and enables their representation in social settings. Experts also believe that recognizing Caregiving is a collective responsibility and yield a public good. After more than 75 years of independence, India must care for the industry that cares for the country.