Oxfam Ireland Homepage
  • 3 min read
  • Published: 31st January 2020
  • Written by Joanne O'Connor

Investing in our care system will help tackle gender inequality

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 may be better illustrated by the countless hours they spend caring for others, as well as cooking and cleaning. All these invisible tasks traditionally belong to them but are neither counted nor valued.

Care work is the ‘hidden engine’ that keeps the wheels of our global economies, businesses and societies turning. It is driven by women and girls who have little or no time to earn a decent living or go to school, get involved in their communities or have a say in how their societies are run. Instead, they remain trapped at the bottom of the economy.

Women and girls undertake more than three-quarters of unpaid care work in the world and make up two-thirds of the paid care workforce.

They carry out 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day. When valued at 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.

Like the global situation, care work (paid and unpaid) in Ireland is highly gendered and undervalued in terms of pay and recognition. Provision of care services (e.g. childcare, care for older people) by the State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to source them from the market, 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 issue is also poorly integrated into social and economic policy deliberations. Ireland provides the least support to care work among the European Union – 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 week, adding 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 require significant extra investments in public services and social infrastructure. For example, increase investment in early years education to bring overall expenditure in line with the UNICEF recommendation of 1 percent of GDP.
  • Ensure care workers employed or funded by State programmes are properly compensated to at least a living wage level.
  • 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.
  • Deliver integrated changes in social and employment policies that support carers, facilitate the combination of care and employment, while at the same time encourage greater male participation in care.  For example, agree to more paid shared parental leave and more non-transferable paid parental leave for men. Reform the pension system to ensure that women do not lose pension rights as a result of stepping out of the workforce due to care responsibilities.
  • Require all government departments to produce an equality budgeting impact statement on a statutory basis, to provide proper scrutiny of the impact of economic and taxation policies, as well as spending priorities, on women and girlsThis process should involve women’s organisations and civil society.
  • Ensure that the CSO collect better data on the levels and distribution of unpaid care work on an ongoing basis and incorporate the contribution of unpaid care work into overall macro-economic statistics. That would enable this currently hidden sector of the economy to be considered as part of future economic development planning.