Gender - Inclusion - Public Service Delivery - Americas

Win-Win: How Improving Public Care Empowers Women

Mexico / September 18, 2021

Credit: Matthias Zomer via Pexels


Mexico has conducted a pilot project that highlights the shortcomings of the public care system and how the burden of making up for them falls disproportionately on women. By listening to those most affected, concrete solutions and public policy recommendations are offered to improve care and alleviate gender inequality.

Mexican Women are Picking up the Slack

How much of your day is spent on unpaid labor? Cooking, cleaning, doing groceries or laundry? What about caring for others? Children, the sick, elderly relatives or family members with a disability? Without support from others or the government, this unpaid labor can add up. Would you have time to do all this and also work, yourself? Or study? In Mexico there is very little support from the government for caregivers, and the burden falls disproportionately on women. Mexico remains ranked among the lowest countries worldwide in the uneven balance of unpaid labor between men and women. Data gathered by the OECD shows that, on average, Mexican women spend approximately 6.5 hours a day performing unpaid domestic work, while Mexican men spend on average 2 hours and 17 minutes a day. For those who are also providing additional care, these times rise significantly.

What could help significantly alleviate this inequality are strong public care services. However, they remain underfunded and are severely lacking in coordination between each other and the communities they serve. This means that there is not that much support available, and what support there is has a hard time getting to the people who need it. Being able to reduce the amount of time they are obligated to perform these unpaid tasks would mean having more freedom to work, develop a career or hobbies, or to study. These freedoms would especially impact the lives of Mexican women.

Is Care Given to Those that Need it?

One of the commitments in Mexico’s 2019-2022 action plan is to gather reliable data on the extent of the care problem in general and on the positive impact a more efficient and transparent coordination of existing services could have. In short: investigate the issue and how much it can be helped by improving the care services that are already in place. The idea is that this diagnosis and pilot programs should support the creation of comprehensive policy on the issue and contribute to the establishment of a strong national care system.

In order to collect that data, the initial plan was to create three distinct, localized pilot projects in different municipalities. Each one of them would identify gaps in the existing local care system and then design and implement possible interventions to address those specific points of failure. Crucially, all three of these projects were to be designed from the start to allow local citizens to monitor and assess their progress and provide input along the way in order to increase transparency and efficiency. Due to budget constraints, however, the scope eventually had to be reduced to just one pilot project in Manzanillo, Colima. Nevertheless, the empirical study, which was conducted by the CIDE National Public Policy Laboratory (LNPP) with the help of a number of partners, yielded valuable results and was specifically designed in order for it to be replicated in any municipality in Mexico so that if the project is refunded it can pick up where it left off.

Public Care is Lacking, but the Path Forward Is Laid Out

The initial assessment provided proof that public care for all categories of dependents (like children, the elderly, people with disabilities) was insufficient and that the task of making up for this failure fell disproportionately on women. Beyond adding valuable data to support arguments in favor of reforming public care provisions, the project also provided the government with some concrete recommendations. With suggestions like the establishment of public day care, senior care, training of care workers and universal basic income for full-time care workers, the path towards alleviating inequality is laid out.

Although this project has provided helpful results, and has proven itself as a good model for further, similar initiatives, it currently remains underfunded – an issue that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As the inequalities in care work continue to increase, however, projects like this will continue to provide concrete evidence for the necessity and viability of material solutions.

Despite a number of setbacks and a significant reduction in scope due to a lack of funding, the project can be considered successful in both a practical and a theoretical sense. Practically, it identified major public care shortcomings, provided realistic, material solutions for them and demonstrated the value of transparency and inclusion in the process. On a theoretical level, it established a clear public policy framework for similar projects in the future and established an empirical foundation for future discussions. So while the work is far from over, it means that a major step has been taken in the fight for gender equality.

PHOTO Caption: Matthias Zomer via Pexels

Last updated: September 18, 2021

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