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Women's Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care)

Ulita and her husband Muchineripi hanging up laundry. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville / Oxfam

At a glance

Addressing unpaid care and domestic work as key factors in achieving gender equality and economic development.

Overview

Women, especially those living in poverty, face heavy and unequal care responsibilities that impede progress towards economic, political, social and personal empowerment. WE-Care and partners work to transform care provision. The WE-Care initiative funds programs in six countries across South East Asia and Africa, in partnership with national women's rights organisations, men's groups, youth groups, civil society, and the private sector. Our work in WE-Care is supported by Unilever and its laundry brand Surf, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and other donors. WE-Care methodologies and policies are used in 25 countries' development and humanitarian programs.

Our approach is four-pronged:

  • recognise the importance of care work, so it is valued by both women and men, their families, communities, governments, and the wider society
  • reduce difficult or inefficient tasks, such as collecting water or doing laundry
  • redistribute care work more equitably between women and men, and redistribute costs from poor families to states and employers
  • work towards the effective representation of carers and their needs and interests to decision-makers

Partnerships

Promundo

Promundo is a global leader in promoting gender equality and preventing violence by engaging men and boys in partnership with women and girls and individuals of other marginalized gender identities. It believes that working with men and boys to transform harmful gender norms and unequal power dynamics is a critical part of the solution to achieve gender equality.

Through the MenCare campaign, Promundo's programs have supported more than 50,000 fathers across 10 countries to become better parents. In addition, they have been officially adopted by health ministries in five countries. A recent randomized controlled trial shows the impact of Promundo's multi-session fatherhood training and gender-norm reflection curriculum in Rwanda. It resulted in men doing an hour per day more care work at home, a 41% reduction in violence against women, and 16% less against children.

Oxfam's WE-Care and Promundo's MenCare partners collaborate on programming in Rwanda, Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Brazil, among other countries. We have worked together to help shape the agendas of global corporations, donors and government institutions. Oxfam participates on the MenCare steering committee and has contributed to the State of the World's Fathers Reports.

International Center for Research on Women (ICRW)

The ICRW is an applied research institute with over 40 years dedicated to developing and implementing research that supports women's economic and social empowerment. ICRW brings experience in conducting collaborative research that:

  • builds scalable, gendered strategies for progress on women's empowerment
  • recognizes, reduces, redistributes, and represents unpaid care work
  • defines and measures social norms and social norm change
  • engages the public and private sector to support creative solutions to reduce care deficits

WE-Care and ICRW have collaborated on care issues through publications, joint learning and influencing. For example, we organized a plenary session at the SEEP Learning Forum on Women's Economic Empowerment, conducted advocacy work with Development Affairs Canada, and participated in the IFC working group on Tackling Childcare, and at Women Deliver.

Impact

WE-Care's Rapid Care Analysis and Household Care Survey have been used in over 20 countries enabling communities to assess how care is provided, identify problems, develop context-specific solutions, and gather rigorous evidence to inform programme design and influence policy.

Drawing on this evidence base, Oxfam and our partner organizations have used a range of influencing approaches to win investments from government authorities and private companies, strengthen laws and policies on unpaid care, and shift social norms about unpaid care and domestic work. For example:

  • In Zimbabwe, Oxfam and partners are providing over 20,000 people with access to improved water sources closer to home - equipment that helps save them time on care tasks - and new skills on how best to manage and maintain these. Women have reported a reduction in time spent on domestic work, greater choice in how they use their time, and more time for income generation and community engagement.  
  • After taking part in WE-Care training, women in Nairobi successfully lobbied for increased local government expenditure on water and sanitation and early childhood centres to reduce unpaid care work.
  • WE-Care Philippines convened a workshop ('write-shop') for local government officials to discuss how to promote unpaid care in municipal budgeting and planning. Three municipalities have passed ordinances, including the 'WE-Care ordinance' in Salcedo, and the GAD Code in Tacloban City.
  • In Uganda, after our report launch was streamed on NTV, Oxfam and its partner  UWONET implemented a month-long digital campaign on care work to engage citizens, policy makers and NGOs in a national debate on unpaid care work which reached 266,000 Twitter accounts.
  • In Ethiopia, Oxfam partnered with the Ethiopian Broadcasting Association to train journalists and MPs on unpaid care and the country's commitments on SDG 5.4. Since then, a series of feature stories and articles have helped to bring more recognition and shift public perceptions on care work as women's work.
  • The Nairobi Domestic Workers and Informal Traders program built the capacity of women leaders to engage in local government budget hearings, backed by WE-Care research and approaches, including the Rapid Care Analysis and the Household Care Survey. This program video follows the community mobilization process, leadership training, and highlights of public officials' commitments to increased budgets and services for domestic water and early childhood education.

At international level, WE-Care successfully influenced the UN High Level Panel on Women's Economic Empowerment to ensure its final recommendations included calls to action on unpaid care that specifically address the needs of women in poor countries. WE-Care policy asks are now reaching world leaders and powerful global companies, through their integration into Oxfam's high-profile campaigns. For example, WE-Care asks will be widely promoted in Oxfam's media work around the World Economic Forum (Davos), and global supermarkets are being pressured to address WE-Care asks as part of Oxfam's Behind the Barcodes campaign.

Learn from us - 2019 Women's Economic Empowerment Knowledge Hub Webinars

You're invited to our free webinar series.

One billion hours

What if we could release 1 billion hours of women’s time, addressing the largest single factor preventing women reaching their full potential – heavy and unequal unpaid care and domestic work?

Challenging gender roles

On average, women spend over twice as long as men on unpaid work. This can mean as much as five hours a day on laundry, cooking, and caring for children and family.