This story was written by the ILO Newsroom For official ILO statements and speeches, please visit our “Statements and Speeches” section.

Moving towards equality: The role of care work in the Latin American labour market

Analysing the intersection between gender, employment and care, the ILO presents a detailed report that calls for transformative action to redistribute care work around co-responsibility and social justice.

News | 07 March 2024

In commemoration of International Women's Day, the International Labour Organization (ILO) Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean highlights, through an in-depth analysis, both the significant achievements and the ongoing challenges that women face in accessing and staying in the labour market due to caregiving responsibilities.

Ana Virginia Moreira Gomes, ILO Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, emphasizes: "Care work, essential for our economies and societies, continues to be underestimated and distributed unequally, perpetuating gender inequalities". This inequality not only restricts women's labour participation, but also relegates them to a situation of economic and social disadvantage.

The report Latin American workers with care responsibilities: A regional look at Convention 156 highlights the urgent need to reform the social organization of care. The adoption of Convention 156 on workers with family responsibilities is key for the region to move towards deeper gender equality and social justice, giving due value to care work.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, the imbalance in the time dedicated to unpaid care work between women and men is notable, with women performing the vast majority of this work. In the region, 12 countries have ratified Convention 156, providing a framework to meet the needs of all workers with family responsibilities and eradicate discrimination for this reason.

Furthermore, governments play a fundamental role in strengthening accessible and quality care systems, allowing women to enter, remain and progress in the labour market under equal conditions. Investment in care services is an investment in our collective future, creating the foundation for a more just, equitable and prosperous society. The report proposes that countries participate in meeting the demand for care through inclusive policies, such as parental leave, essential to foster shared responsibility in family care. This strategy is vital not only to combat gender inequality in the workplace, but also to respond to the aging population and the growing demand for care services.

To reinforce the call to action and emphasize the importance of care work in Latin America and the Caribbean, it is essential to highlight that, in addition to promoting progress towards gender equality, having transformative care policies also allows for the consolidation of sustainable economic and social development. Equal participation in unpaid care work and the workforce has the potential to boost economic growth, improve the well-being of families and foster a more inclusive and resilient society.

ILO Regional Director Ana Virginia Moreira Gomes emphasizes that "the integration of policies that support care work within national agendas will not only benefit women but society as a whole, by promoting greater labour inclusion and contribute to closing gender gaps". This approach requires concerted action from all sectors of society, including governments, employer organizations, workers and civil society organizations, to develop and implement strategies that recognize, reduce and equitably redistribute unpaid care work.

  1. Relevant data:

    – Globally, women perform 76.2% of all unpaid care work, spending 3.2 times more time on these tasks than men. This translates to 606 million working-age women (21.7%) doing full-time unpaid care work, compared to 41 million men (1.5%).

    – In Latin America, women spend between 6.3 and 29.5 hours more per week than men doing unpaid care work. This represents a total of 8,417 million weekly hours dedicated to unpaid care work by women in the region.

    – Investment in Latin America in licensing and care services shows significant potential for job creation. The calculations made for seven countries in the region estimate the generation of 25.8 million direct and indirect jobs, mostly formal and destined for women.

    – The need for care has driven the migration of women in search of care work, contributing to the feminization of migration in the region and the establishment of global care chains.

    – In 2022, women in Latin America received on average 88.2% of the real monthly salary of men in urban areas. However, when total labour income is considered, including the different types of employment and hours worked, the gap widens significantly, with women receiving only 59% of what men receive.

    – Mothers face lower incomes and are less likely to hold managerial or leadership positions compared to both women without children and men (with or without children). This “motherhood wage penalty” contrasts with a “fatherhood wage gap” in which fathers are more likely to be paid better than childless men.

    – Although in 2020, 67.4% of women between 20 and 24 years old had completed secondary education, surpassing 60.9% of men of the same age, this does not translate into equality in participation labour or in working conditions, evidencing a significant gap that is not justified by educational differences.

    – In 2021, for every 100 men living in poor households in the region, there were 116 women in a similar situation. The lower employment rate of women, especially in households with boys and girls, aggravates this inequality, increasing the economic vulnerability of women.

    – Informality, which affects almost half of working people in Latin America (48% in 2023), is more prevalent among women than men. Women not only face higher rates of informality, but they also face lower quality jobs and greater deficits in decent work, even when they have more years of education than men on average.