The 5 Cs and the Care Economy

S3E28 of The Conversation Piece

Black and white photo of Andrea Gunraj over a template of The Conversation Piece podcast featuring a mic and outlines of other mics.



ANDREA GUNRAJ: One woman says my role as a single mother tripled, as I managed three kids under the age of 15 from home and tried to sustain a consistent paycheck. Another says the cost of living and housing and food affects my ability to leave an unhealthy marriage. It affects quality of life for my kids and myself. Another, I am at my limit. There’s too much expected of people with dependence. You are a burning out an entire generation of people. And this after 20 years of working in healthcare, the last two years in my field of work has become detrimental to my health. These are just some of the women and gender diverse people struggling today with caregiving work, they joined the 44% of mothers who two years into a pandemic with gendered impacts say they’re reaching their breaking point. My name is Andrea Gora and I work with the Canadian women’s foundation, a national leader in the movement for gender equality and justice.

And I’m here to tell you that I believe our future depends on transforming the way we value care work. The story is actually a very old one. Our society is built on women’s unpaid and underpaid care work at the same time that it is founded on stolen land and stolen labour gendered care presumes is a presumed sacrifice that we bank on. It keeps our households, our communities, and our cities running. It underlies the smooth function of the places where we live, work and play. It carries us through life. As we face all kinds of challenges. The story of women’s care is written as a difficult one, a journey of underappreciated sacrifice for the greater good we’ve built our laws and our policies and institutions on the assumption and requirement that women particularly racialized and marginalised women will be there to perform free and undervalued, nurturing education, health, and life support for children and elders and families and adults and romantic partners and coworkers and the public at large.

This is a narrative of inherent and natural duty. We see it at home. Girls and women perform the bulk of unpaid childcare, elder care and housework. Things are slowly changing, but the duties are by no means gender balanced. We see it in our economy. Over half of women workers are in the five CS. That’s caring, catering, clerical work, cashiering, and cleaning. Most of these jobs are set up to be precarious, pressure Laden under protected and poorly compensated. And they’re dominated by immigrant racialized and marginalised women in these roles. Of course, women have been in the forefront of the pandemic, but they have had little say in decision making in the pandemic response, we see it at work so much of women’s time is taken up with unpaid work. So they have less time for paid work. And the paid work they do is not well compensated women also get penalised for parenthood.

Think of the motherhood penalty, where women lose advancement opportunities because they become parents. Compare that to the fatherhood bonus where men’s compensation tends to bump up when they become parents and in the workplace who feels the pressure to do diversity and inclusion initiatives off the side of their desks, who takes care of staff, socials and celebrations. It’s the lowest paid women, racialized women, and two S LGBTQ employees. We see it in our communities as well. Women and girls are most likely to volunteer their time in Canada, 80% of charity workers and nonprofit workers in Canada also identify as women. Now, this is not a case against care paid and unpaid. It is essential and formative to our humanity. There’s not one of us who doesn’t benefit from it on a daily basis, but this is a case for valuing care work, highly valuing it as a pandemic evolves.

One of the most radical innovations we can pursue is to uplift care, work, and most importantly, uplift and value and support the diverse women. And two-spirit trans and non-binary people who have been doing it all long. What if they were paid for their unpaid elder care childcare, community care and home care? What if they were paid excellently for five C jobs? What if these were set up to be the best professions and not the most hard, the most draining and thankless? What if migrant care workers had an automatic and clear path to settlement and citizenship? What if women and gender diverse people weren’t teetering on the brink of poverty as they did care work? What if it wasn’t a struggle in the last two years, of course, recognition of essential work trended. We applauded essential workers as heroes. What if we moved forward with real vision to give care work it’s due as essential and take care of the carers?

Not just because we’re virtuous, but because we understand the enormous social and human and economic benefits of doing it. Those of us who advocate for gender justice, we’re pushing for three things to happen. As a start, we need to make care, work, excellent work, excellent pay protection and benefits, excellent working conditions. We need to make sure that our new national childcare programme truly creates universal accessible childcare, prioritising the most vulnerable families. And we need well paid workers here, the right infrastructure and significant funding to match the need. And we need a big investment in care system for seniors and people with disabilities, including assistance for families, struggling with costs in our own lives and in our own homes and spheres of influence. We need to proactively take steps to value care, work, and come alongside the women and gender diverse people. So it’s not a struggle. Are you doing this? Am I doing this? Please think about it carefully. We need progress on gender justice in leaps and bounce. We need to vote accordingly and tirelessly hold our leaders accountable to it too. In 2022, it’s more urgent than ever. Our collective future must be a future of care. Thank you.


Andrea Gunraj