Work Areas

Women's Unpaid Care Work

UCW 3 - Care work and human rights

UCW 3 - Care work and human rights

An unequal distribution of care work leads to a violation of human rights recognised in national and international law. For instance, the inability to develop an autonomous livelihood relates to the violation of the right to work (art. 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Equally, feeling sick and tired as a result of being overworked relates to the violation of the right to free time and to rest (art. 24) or the right to a dignified standard of living (art. 25). A rights-based perspective also allows us to analyse how care work overload impacts on other individual and collective rights such as the right to health, to education or to political participation, since the overworked caregiver has no time, mobility, health, energy or capacity to enjoy them.

Those people who require care, such as people living with disability, the ill and the elderly, also have the right to health and an adequate standard of living. In households living in poverty often these rights cannot be fulfilled because caregivers have limited time, energy, money and access to services to ensure good quality care. The state, as the primary duty bearer, does not fulfil its responsibility to people requiring care by not providing adequate quality public health services that could support them.

Using a human rights approach to care helps us see that care-related problems and solutions are not individual, but structural. States have ratified and signed up to numerous human rights treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Convention to End all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Therefore, the state as the primary duty bearer is accountable and must respect, protect and fulfil human rights for all. If care work is today being taken up primarily by women and girls from the poorest families, this is because the private sector and the state are not taking up their responsibility for care work. They are transferring their care responsibilities to households through processes such as the lack of workplace care services and the lack of public services.

The enjoyment of rights for all can be reached by: a) recognising that care work exists and is important; b) reducing care work through policies (i.e. free water) and environmental and technical advances (i.e. water purification systems, water harvesting technologies); c) redistributing or sharing care work; and d) representing demands for care work to be valued, reduced and redistributed. We call these the ‘4Rs’ – recognise, reduce, redistribute and represent.

Possible tools to support analysis of care work and human rights

  • Care sharing square - to help identify actors that can support and share an individual's care work.



Here you can download some useful resources.

Tools in this toolbox

Care sharing square

To help identify actors that can support and share an individual's care work.The tool helps to introduce the idea that care is ...

Cobweb for rights analysis

To help understand the rights situation and of different groups in a community.In the example below the focus is on women's rig...

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