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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. The WE-Care initiative works to change this. 

WE-Care is implemented in six countries across South East Asia and Africa, in partnership with national women's rights organisations, civil society and the private sector. 

Our work in WE-Care is supported by Unilever and its laundry brand Surf, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

Our approach

Oxfam's WE-Care initiative uses the 4 Rs approach: 

  • Recognition of unpaid care and domestic work as valuable work 
  • Reduction of the difficulty and time spent on these activities
  • Redistribution from women to men, and from households to the state, private sector and civil society
  • Representation of unpaid carers in governance structures and economic decision-making.

WE-Care works closely with local partner organisations and other allies to promote the 4 Rs at multiple levels. The programme works at community level to improve households' access to time-saving infrastructure and equipment, and to challenge the social norms that promote unequal sharing of care work between women and men. WE-Care engages with government bodies at sub-national, national, regional and international levels to push for the policies and investments needed to reduce and redistribute women's care work. The Programme also engages with 'unconventional' allies, including global companies, media institutions, religious and traditional leaders, to promote norms change at societal level.

Our 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.

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.