Feminist activists and scholars concur that the care economy is vital to the wellbeing and livelihoods of communities in the Arab region, especially where these communities encounter challenges in securing their livelihoods.
With this in mind, it is important to note that the burden of care work is perceived as the responsibility of women and girls. This is linked to gender roles, which frame women and girls as "natural carers" who have "inherent skills" that allow them to excel in carrying out these tasks. In fact, educational curricula across the region perpetuate the perception that women are primarily responsible for care work.
Care work performed by women and girls – and which is often non-negotiable – presents a serious time constraint as well as a hindrance to accessing opportunities for various forms of self-advancement. This work is unevenly distributed between men and women. According to the ILO, on average, women spend four times more hours performing care work than men. Even when women engage in work outside of the home, they usually still have the same care responsibilities in their household.
Cost-benefit analyses often show that this obligation is the main reason women do not engage in paid work, especially in the absence of state-imposed policies and institutional arrangements that encourage women to do so. As such, it is no surprise that Arab states have the lowest rates of female labour force participation globally. Progress at this level has been minimal (29% in 1997 compared to 34% in 2017). When serious crises in the region (e.g. mass migration or violent conflict) result in changing gender roles, care work remains within the realm of women and girls.
Care work – essentially the care of others, whether paid or unpaid – remains nontransferable, undervalued, poorly recognised and forever constituting a barrier to women’s and girls’ advancement. Indeed, from the perspective of what is called the care economy, this work is critical if not vital for ensuring the wellbeing of the household and the community as well as for the reproduction of human and social capital.
This platform is part of the Axis 1 "Strengthening the capacities of equality actors" of the Priority Solidarity Fund "Women for the future in the Mediterranean" funded by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and led by the European Institute of the Mediterranean, in the framework of the project “Developing Women's Empowerment” labelled by the Union for the Mediterranean.