Community caregivers and domestic workers are urging decision-makers to recognize their work as essential and eliminate stigma and discrimination

Community caregivers and domestic workers are urging decision-makers to recognize their work as essential and eliminate stigma and discrimination
Photo: UN Women

From 28 to 30 June 2023, Mexico City hosted the "Global Grassroots Women Community Caregivers' Summit," which brought together 74 women leaders of active caregiver organizations and domestic workers from 24 countries. The Summit was convened by the Huairou Commission, the National Institute of Women of the Government of Mexico (Inmujeres), UN Women and the Global Alliance for Care, in collaboration with caregiver groups from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin and North America, and the Caribbean.

Grassroots caregiver organizations, along with domestic workers, gathered at the "Global Grassroots Women Community Caregivers’ Summit" and issued a Call to Action. They urged governments, international policymakers, philanthropies, civil society, and the private sector to implement actions that respect, resource, and compensate local caregiver constituencies, domestic workers, and organizations in order to foster a caring society and just economies.

Violet Shivutse, the Chair of the Huairou Commission, stated, "Grassroots women have always been at the frontline in caregiving. They have experienced different disasters and pandemics and are leading in mobilizing communities to sustain their livelihoods despite the burden imposed on themselves. Existing structures and systems put in place by grassroots organizations have enabled them to organize care beyond immediate family members, including providing support to those in the community, distributing food, picking up medicines from health facilities and delivering them to the sick, and mobilizing funds to provide essential goods to women and their families in local communities. Grassroots women view care as a development issue and have continued to fill critical gaps in society despite the lack of compensation and recognition. Over the next three days, together with diverse caregiving constituencies, partners and allies, our efforts will be focused on enumerating caregivers' contributions and priorities in the Global Grassroots Women Community Caregivers' Call to Action, in order to promote and implement the caregivers' vision for a just care economy."

The Summit aimed to provide a space for dialogue between caregivers and domestic workers, in order to recognize their contributions to caring societies and vibrant local care economies. It also intended to reflect on critical care issues and challenges, priorities, and opportunities surrounding care work, as well as establish a "friends of grassroots women community caregivers" group with decision-makers.

In her opening remarks, Nadine Gasman, the president of Inmujeres, highlighted that it is an honour for the Government of Mexico and, specifically, the National Institute of Women, to host this meeting and welcome community caregivers from around the world. The event was designed with them and by them because the aim is to understand and acknowledge their activities and contributions to society's well-being, learn from their work in caregiving, which promotes the sustainability of life and the economy, and take note of their experiences and insights. She emphasized that community caregiving work is often undervalued and goes unnoticed, but it serves as a crucial mechanism for protection against gender-based violence and discrimination. Additionally, community caregivers create significant support networks within their communities and work together in a close, supportive, and empathetic manner. She further stated that the focus of their efforts should be on community spaces, particularly on the caregivers who, through their daily activities, contribute to the well-being of individuals and the sustainability of life. Nadine Gasman expressed that the reason for convening this meeting and engaging in dialogue is the realization that each of us has been cared for by someone, and it is vital to acknowledge and appreciate that fact. Overall, her message emphasizes the significance of community caregivers and their role in society, advocating for their recognition, support, and the exchange of knowledge and experiences.

The event was also an opportunity to demonstrate how care work contributes to a just care economy and to advancing gender equality and sustainable development. Discussions also revolved around how the COVID-19 pandemic increased and highlighted care work, mostly performed by women. Likewise, the protection of the planet and the role of women caregivers in mitigating environmental and health risks were part of the discussions.

During her intervention, Jemimah Njuki, Chief of the Economic Empowerment section at UN Women, emphasized that the Global Summit has provided a unique opportunity to amplify the voices of grassroots women caregivers, celebrate their contributions, and catalyze transformative change. The Grassroots Women Caregivers' Call to Action and advocacy campaign, outlining our global political agenda, priorities, and expectations, will lead the way forward to position the care economy as a building block of a sustainable and socially just economy. She said, "Let us remember that the roots of change are planted in the soil of the community. With their hands and hearts, grassroots women caregivers water these roots every day. Therefore, by supporting and investing in grassroots women caregivers' organizations, we invest in the well-being of our communities, gender equality, economic prosperity, and sustainable development."

The Global Grassroots Women Community Caregivers' Summit marks the inaugural event of a series that will be organized by the Global Alliance for Care to catalyze social dialogues representing the diverse economic justice agendas of unpaid and paid, informal and formal care worker organizations and unions. Valentina Zendejas, Technical Secretariat of the Global Alliance for Care, stated that the Summit was "an initial moment to vindicate the fundamental contributions of community caregivers and domestic workers to society." She added that "One of the Alliance's objectives is to promote a broad, diverse, and global movement that demands a move towards caring societies, where the life and well-being of people are the priority, and the universal right to care and be cared for is guaranteed." These sessions are intended to generate a space to share realities and challenges faced by these constituencies, as well as to support the development of a common agenda that promotes achieving decent work for all care workers and amplifies their voices and agency in decision-making processes that shape the care economy, including in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Through a Call to Action adopted at the end of the Summit, the leaders of caregiver constituencies called upon the stakeholders present during the meeting to recognize women's organizations of community caregivers, in all their diversity, as essential workers and to accelerate initiatives and financial investments in gender justice, local care economies, and grassroots community women and household workers' caregiver organizations. Among their petitions, they claimed that governments, the philanthropic sector, international organizations, and other decision-makers should promote and guarantee the inclusion of grassroots women caregiver organizations, domestic workers, and leaders in economic decision-making processes related to social and economic policy and budgeting. They also called for the development of innovative policy and program frameworks that create revenue streams to support caregivers and address underpaid work, as well as to foster women's campaigns to address these issues. They also requested ensuring decent work and social protection for every care worker.

“Let this dialogue of partners be a beacon of hope and a promise of change. Let us take this unique opportunity to commit to stand in solidarity with grassroots community caregivers, support their call to action and provide them with the necessary support” said Belen Sanz, UN Women’s Country Representative in Mexico.

The Summit has been financially supported by the Global Alliance for Care, Inmujeres, UN Women, the African Women's Development Fund, the Ford Foundation, Oxfam Canada, the Women's Fund Asia, and organizations from the UN system. Its closing segment included a feminist Mexican art exhibition curated by the collective ADN, led by its director Carlos Gomez and Jorge Martínez Cabrera.