Women’s unpaid work in the home is a ‘major human rights issue,’ says UN expert

Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Magdalena Sepúlveda. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

24 October 2013 – Cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly should be a social and collective responsibility, rather than fall entirely on women’s shoulders, a United Nations independent expert has said, warning that unpaid care that is not shared ingrains poverty and social exclusion for women.

“I call on States to recognize unpaid care work as a major human rights issue,” UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty, Magdalena Sepúlveda, told the UN General Assembly’s main social, humanitarian and cultural body (Third Committee) in New York.

“Unpaid care work is at the foundation of all our societies, and crucial for economic growth and social development,” she noted. “However, it has been mostly overlooked or taken for granted by policy makers. This has an enormous impact on women’s poverty and their enjoyment of rights – as they do the majority of unpaid care.”

In the report presented to the General Assembly, Ms. Sepúlveda, who is among a host of independent experts at UN Headquarters this month to brief the Committee, noted that women in developed and developing countries work longer hours than men when unpaid work is taken into account, but receive lower earnings and less recognition.

She recommends that States “ensure that the necessary public services and infrastructure - including childcare, healthcare, water and energy provision – are in place to support care, especially in disadvantaged areas.”

In addition, her report outlines States’ obligations to tackle the unequal distribution of care under existing human rights agreements.

“In order to truly empower women, we must ensure that unpaid care is better valued, supported and shared – by men and the State,” said Ms. Sepúlveda.

Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.


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