The lockdowns and illnesses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically increased the need to care for children, the elderly and the sick. And in societies where gender inequality and biased norms persist, most of this burden has fallen on women, many of whom have had to leave their regular jobs with no idea of when they can return.
Actually, the pandemic has merely exacerbated the existing stereotypes about the role of women, who are reflexively expected to take care of their family members, house chores, and myriad other daily domestic tasks that are unpaid but vital to households, communities and economies.
Funded by the European Union, UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia programme is responding to this chronic issue with the launch of the ‘UN Women Care Accelerator,’ an online group training and incubating programme for female entrepreneurs and businesses led by or supporting women in the care industry. The programme aims to create jobs and income for women by supporting new, creative solutions in the care sector – thus turning the unjust burden into economic opportunities for them.
Over a period of six months starting June 1, selected candidates from Asia and the Pacific will be provided with tailor-made training; paired with mentors; and connected with potential investors, partners and experts to develop and scale up their business models. Seedstars, an investment holding company, and Bopinc, a social enterprise, will co-lead the training, exchange and mentorship.
“Innovation will be crucial to address this ‘care emergency’ and turn the unjust burden into economic opportunities, boosting the number of women who lead and participate in business,” underscored Katja Freiwald, Regional Programme Manager of WeEmpowerAsia.
Even before the pandemic, women in the Asia-Pacific did on average 4 times as much unpaid care work as men did each day — in some countries up to 11 times more, according to a 2018 report by Asian Development Bank and UN Women. This has widened the gender gap in earnings and prevented women from fully participating in the economy.
In 2019, the labour force participation rate among men aged 15 and above was 76 per cent in East Asia and the Pacific, compared to 58.8 percent among women of the same age group. It was the only region in the world where women’s labour force participation had been decreasing even before the pandemic.