Unpaid Care Global Growth and Policies for Sustainability

Oldridge, Louise and Larkin, Mary (2020). Unpaid Care Global Growth and Policies for Sustainability. In: Leal Filho, Walter; Azul, Anabela Marisa; Brandli, Luciana; Salvia, Amanda Lange and Wall, Tony eds. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Gender Equality. Cham: Springer.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-70060-1_96-1


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of 2015, endorsed by the United Nations, details 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The purpose of these goals is to address global challenges faced by nation states, including inequality. The fifth goal (SDG 5) is to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” and target 5.4 specifically calls for recognition and valuing of the significant amounts of unpaid care work carried out by women across the globe “through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate” (United Nations 2015).

SDG 5, and its emphasis on recognizing women’s unpaid care work, is long awaited (United Nations 2015). It follows years of debate and advocacy of both activists and feminist academics highlighting issues of care, social reproduction and seeking to conceptualize unpaid activities as work (Rao 2018; Taylor 2004). Global acknowledgement of unpaid care work first came in 1995 at the Fourth International Women’s Conference in Beijing (Rao 2018). This was later endorsed by Elson (2008) (cited in Rao 2018: 741) who proposed the “three Rs” framework, to “reduce, recognize, and redistribute” women’s unpaid care work. However, the varied understandings and definitions of unpaid care across geographical and socio-cultural locations have implications for families, the state, and the market, in accordance with different policy mechanisms (Rao 2018). Despite moves towards the holistic recognition of unpaid care work in global discourse, women’s care work continues to be taken for granted at a policy level (Rao 2018).

The aim of this entry is to review the feasibility of SDG 5 and the policy requirements needed in order to achieve it, at a global level, and challenges associated in so doing. The United Kingdom (UK), a nation state and founding member of the UN, will be used to illustrate some of the issues raised. If transformative changes are not made in policy at both national and global level, there is a risk that SDG 5 will not be achieved. Given their centrality, the entry will start with an examination of the concepts of care and carer. It then moves on to review existing levels of unpaid care and their impact, globally and in the UK, with specific reference to women. This is followed by an exploration of existing policy and the requirements of global and national policy in order to address SDG 5 in relation to unpaid care work.

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