Introducing a new tool to assess and promote the care-responsiveness of the international financial institutions

Unequal distribution of paid, unpaid and underpaid care work between women and men has long been a major driver of gender inequality globally. The COVID-19 crisis has further exacerbated this situation and worsened gender inequalities, including in Asia. It is increasingly clear that the care economy is the hidden machine behind the functioning of our “seen” global economy, and addressing the care crisis will be a central tenant of ensuring we are moving towards a gender-just economy for the COVID-19 recovery and beyond. International financial institutions (IFIs) like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have a key role to play in helping to shed light on the role of care, and integrate care into economic development discourse, national plans, and projects.

The World Bank has made particular progress on the care agenda in recent years, building off its WB Gender Strategy (FY16–23) which laid some foundations for this work, highlighting the high proportion of domestic work performed by women due to infrastructure deficits and the time spent on child care, hindering women’s entry to the workforce. To date, this agenda has largely focused on childcare and been private-sector focused. We now see the Bank taking further steps through IDA20, however, the Bank, and other IFIs can and must do more, and this agenda extends well beyond childcare. To encourage IFIs to promote, measure and improve the care-responsiveness of all their operations, Oxfam in consultation and collaboration with allies, care workers and their unions, has co-created a set of in-depth tools: Care Principles and Care-Responsiveness Barometer for IFIs.

The Care Principles have been designed to serve as a guideline for care-responsive strategies. They are guided by the ILO ‘5R framework’ for Decent Care (recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work; reward paid care work, by promoting more and decent work for care workers; and guarantee care workers’ representation, social dialogue and collective bargaining) and emanate from the care-related provisions endorsed by various human rights mandates, conventions and international labor standards. The IFI Care-Responsiveness Barometer takes this a step further by providing a planning tool for adopting the Care Principles and a monitoring framework to capture progress on integrating a care perspective into the IFIs’ internal and external operations across project, country and corporate (institutional) levels.

To give just a small idea of how this manifests, the tool includes a list of self-guided questions project team leaders (I.e. at the project level) can consider as they are designing projects, including this sampling below:

  • Does the project scope and/or objectives include reduction, rewarding or redistribution of care work?
  • Does the project’s integrated safeguards data sheet/initial poverty and social analysis recognize women and paid and/or unpaid care workers as a stakeholder group for consultations?
  • Does the project have a result indicator for redistribution of unpaid care work across genders?

The Care Principles and Barometer were also used for a new Oxfam report The World Bank in Asia: An assessment of COVID-19 related investments through a care lens to assess the nature of the World Bank Group’s (WBG) COVID-19 investments from a care perspective in four countries in Asia — Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal and the Philippines — and building evidence through a gender- and care-responsive budget review. The 12 case studies’ findings indicate both enablers and barriers to care responsiveness in World Bank projects. Some of the enabling factors included gender and care work analysis to identify the barriers for women workforce participation; targeted action on care-related reforms (beyond mere financial inclusion reforms); and financing projects that had well-designed care focused investment(s) to name a few. In contrast, barriers to care responsiveness included lack of capacities and knowledge base to guide the project design and planning stages and monitoring implementation; failure to plan actual interventions to reduce or redistribute paid and unpaid care work; and lack of inclusion of care workers’ participation in decision-making and to enable their voice and agency, among others.

These case studies helped us to refine the Barometer further. In the end, the Barometer as Oxfam is launching it is an extremely comprehensive picture of what it would take to integrate a care-response approach at the IFIs at all levels. We wanted to paint this whole picture and while some aspects could take some time to address, there is a great deal that staff at the multilateral development banks can move forward on quickly.

Considering the assessment learnings and the barriers identified, high-level recommendations are outlined in the report. To enable a pragmatic approach, recommendations include various project cycle entry points:

  1. Recognize, reduce, and redistribute care work throughout the project preparatory and operation phases in addition to the results framework via strong gender and care analysis; clearly defined activities to reduce, redefine and redistribute care work; disaggregated data collection; strategic, care-responsive design features and sufficient budgetary allocations.
  2. Reward and promote decent care work and strengthen representation, voice and agency throughout the project preparatory and operation phases in addition to the results framework by including a mechanism to ensure compliance of minimum social protection requirements; secure participation, representation and voice of women paid workers/care workers in decision-making through a systematic approach; and proactively engage all stakeholders, including care-worker unions, via integrated stakeholder and community engagement plans.
  3. Enhance skills and paid work opportunities during project operation phase by including capacity building components. Project staff and implementing partners also need capacity building support themselves, to build their individual and institutional abilities to deliver gender and care-responsive projects, including social protection benefits and decent work conditions to promote care-responsiveness for all workers involved and impacted by development financing projects.
  4. The project cycle and entry points should enable a selection process that prioritizes care infrastructure and services (health and education services; social protection; water sanitation, energy and transport). It should promote drudgery reduction and investments in time-saving technology research and development to enable the redistribution and reduction of women’s care work. The scope of the investment should also recognize, advocate and promote decent employment for frontline workers including care workers engaged in the sector.

Our hope is that these newly released tools and analysis provide the framework to help IFIs move these recommendations forward concretely, and provide stakeholders including shareholders and civil society with concrete objectives they can be pushing the IFIs on.

This blog was co-authored by Fiana Arbab, Oxfam International’s IFI Fellow, Nadia Daar, Oxfam International’s Head of Washington DC Office, and Richa Singh, former Regional Research and Policy lead for Oxfam in Asia.

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