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Tackle gender inequality by investing in care

When we think of gender inequality, our minds tend to leap to wage packets and glass ceilings. But for women and girls, the gender gap is evident in the countless hours they spend caring for others, as well as cooking and cleaning. These tasks are often invisible and undervalued.

Care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our global economies, businesses and societies turning – and it keeps women trapped on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Women and girls carry out 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. If they were paid the minimum wage, this would represent a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year  more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

domestic worker lives in inequality and takes care of a baby
Elizabeth Wayua, 31 and a domestic worker, tends to the baby of her employer in Kenya. Many domestic workers are paid nowhere near the national minimum wage, perpetuating inequality. Photo: Allan Gichigi/Oxfam

In Ireland, the provision of care services (for example, childcare and care for older people) by the State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to pay someone else to do the work – if they can afford it. The levels of support for combining paid and unpaid work are still well behind the EU average, while State supports for those who wish to receive care in their own home are limited. This sits uneasily with Ireland’s reputation as being a good place to raise a family. Meanwhile, any cutbacks or delays in investment impact women disproportionately.

Women in Ireland put in 38 million hours of unpaid care work every weekadding at least €24 billion of value to the Irish economy every year. This is equivalent to 12.3 percent of the Irish economy.

 

Oxfam Ireland is asking the next government to:

  • Implement the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality related to care work. This will mean investing more in public services and social infrastructure.
  • Ensure care workers employed or funded by the State are paid at least a living wage.
  • Hold a referendum on Article 41.2 of the Constitution to amend the language so it is gender neutral and recognises the value of care work in Irish society.
  • Allow people who care for loved ones to be employed as carers and encourage more men to participate.
  • Make all government departments report on the impact that economic and taxation policies and spending priorities have on women and girls.
  • Ensure that the Central Statistics Office (CSO) collects better data on the levels of unpaid care work. Incorporate the contribution of unpaid care work into the CSO’s economic statistics.

Sustainability through circular economy could put Ireland ahead of the curve

The corporate world has a huge impact on sustainability. Every decision can affect the most vulnerable people and fragile ecosystems, threatening livelihoods and exacerbating poverty. The fashion industry, for example, has completely changed our attitude towards clothes. The lack of regulation around fast fashion means that we are now buying cheap, easily disposable, low-quality clothes, many of which can’t be recycled.

Boy walks through trash plastic waste landfill
A boy walks through waste. Photo: Hermes Rivera

The wages and working conditions of mostly female textile workers in countries like Bangladesh often fall well below basic human rights standards. Throwaway fashion is unsustainable and is stretching the planet’s resources way beyond its limits.

Every year, Irish people dump 225,000 tonnes of clothing – a huge waste of water and energy considering that it would take 13 years to drink the amount of water needed to make one t-shirt and one pair of jeans. The circular economy works by increasing the lifespan of a product through design, choice of material, manufacturing processes, product use, reuse and recycling.

Circularity is good for the environment and can help tackle the climate crisis. It also creates the chance for clothing designers and manufacturers to be more innovative. The following three principles could move us beyond the current take-make-waste model:

  1. Design waste and pollution out of the lifecycle of a product
  2. Keep products and material in use
  3. Revive natural systems

Oxfam works with a wide range of companies committed to sustainability – but a lot more needs to be done to develop the potential of the circular economy in Ireland.

We are calling on the next government to:

  • Create an action plan for the textiles industry.
  • Reduce VAT for services that prolong a product’s life. Make recycled materials more financially attractive than raw materials and provide dedicated research and funding to making clothes from recycled textiles.
  • Create policies that encourage innovation in the circular economy.
  • Insist on transparency from manufacturers so that the consumers know where their clothes are made and under what conditions.
  • Make manufacturers responsible for the proper disposal or treatment of discarded clothes, many of which end up in landfill.
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Knowledge is power: All the right questions for your politician [Downloadable]

With the general election just around the corner, politicians and canvassers will be pounding the streets between now and 8th of February to persuade members of the public to pledge to give them their No.1 on the ballot paper. You can be guaranteed that over the coming days, a local politician, or an enthusiastic canvasser eager to share the attributes of the individual they’re representing, will call to your home.

For weeks you’ve had a list of carefully formulated questions in your head. Yet as you open the door to greet your local TD, councillor, potential political newcomer or canvasser, those questions are likely to evaporate.

So we've created a handy downloadable list of questions on some of the biggest global issues of our time:

  • Climate change
  • Unsustainable consumerism
  • Gender inequality and the burden of the care economy, which is mostly carried by women and girls
  • The global corporate tax system which hits the poor the hardest

You can download the list and store it on your phone – or print off a hard copy and pop it up on the wall next to your front door. That way, when a politician or canvasser calls round, you have all the questions you need at your fingertips.

Questions for election candidates - for people and planet

Climate change

  1. How are you going to tackle the climate crisis, including ensuring we reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 8% every year?
  2. And how are you going to support people in poorer countries who are already feeling its devastating effects?

Sustainability

  1. How will you work to make Ireland more sustainable, including by developing the circular economy which eliminates waste and helps protect our most precious resources?

Gender inequality and the care economy

  1. What are your plans to tackle gender inequality?
  2. And how do you plan to better value and invest in unpaid care work? Including tackling the disproportionate impact it has on women?

The global corporate tax system

  1. Will you help overhaul the global corporate tax system which allows large multinational companies to avoid paying their fair share of tax and deprives countries, especially the world's poorest, of vital revenue?

The global corporate tax system: Why should developing countries pay the price?

It’s impossible to tackle global poverty and inequality while corporate tax avoidance continues to drain vital revenue from low-income countries. While Ireland has gone some way to address the issue, the reforms haven’t gone far enough. There is clear and growing evidence that the State is still facilitating large-scale tax avoidance, with Oxfam’s recent Off the Hook report providing evidence of high levels of unusual payments which indicate corporate tax avoidance.

factory garment workers underpaid
Line-workers make trousers and jackets for international brands at a garment factory in Vietnam. They earn extremely little wages. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Corporate tax avoidance undermines efforts to tackle global poverty. The UN estimates that developing countries lose around $100 billion due to corporate tax avoidance every year, depriving them of vital revenue for services like health and education that lift people out of poverty. What’s also becoming clear is how tax avoidance and evasion negatively affect women’s rights and are detrimental to closing the gender inequality gap.

Efforts to reform the global tax system are now taking place at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – these reforms are essential to finance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to create a better and more sustainable future for everyone. With corporate tax essential for raising revenue in developing countries, Ireland needs to engage with the OECD’s reform process and ensure that the world’s poorest countries no longer have to pay the price for an outdated global tax system.

Oxfam Ireland is calling on the next government to:

  • Support the reform of corporate income tax to rebalance tax rights between developed and developing countries.
  • Agree a global minimum effective tax rate at a fair level.
  • Ensure that all multinational companies (MNCs) are more transparent in how they operate and report on their activities at an EU level.
  • Review and reform Ireland’s Double Taxation Treaties – an agreement between two countries that reduces the tax bill for someone who is resident of one country but has citizenship in another. The agreement aims to prevent the taxpayer from paying tax to both countries.

Time for Ireland to lead on climate and support poorer nations

The climate crisis is the most urgent issue facing humanity and the planet. It affects many of the communities with which Oxfam works, disrupting their livelihoods through gradual, insidious changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, and increasing the frequency and intensity of cyclones, floods and droughts.

Vulnerability to disaster and climate change matters because it perpetuates and deepens poverty and suffering. It stands in the way of people – particularly women –being able to enjoy their basic rights and reduces their chances of ever being able to attain them.

solar powered water pump poverty
Oxfam installed a solar powered water pump in Ghana that allows women to farm vegetables during the dry season. Ireland needs impactful climate action that helps all people. Photo: Oxfam

Ireland has fallen short on taking meaningful action to tackle climate change, with the Government dragging its heels and missing key targets. While the Government’s 2019 Climate Action Plan is a step forward, it lacks any significant ambition.

The devastating impacts of climate change are being felt everywhere and are having very real consequences on people’s lives, especially in the world’s poorest countries. As well as reducing carbon emissions at home, richer nations like Ireland must provide climate finance to ensure that the most affected countries have enough resources to support them in the fight against the climate crisis.

The government has committed to at least double the percentage of its aid budget spending on climate finance by 2030. In 2018, Ireland spent some 10 percent of its aid budget on climate – that needs to be increased to 20 percent. With climate breakdown already devastating communities, it is vital that this target is reached by 2025 at the latest.

Ahead of the general election on February 8th, Oxfam Ireland is calling on the new government to:

  • Deliver annual reductions in climate-polluting emissions of at least 8% a year for the lifetime of the next government.
  • Help poorer countries to cope with the climate emergency by spending 20 percent of its aid budget on climate finance by 2025.

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