Valuing Unpaid Work and Caregiving
On March 15, during the Commission on the Status of Women, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN held a side event entitled “Valuing Unpaid Work and Caregiving,” together with the Catholic Women’s Forum. The panel of accomplished scholars, lawyers and non-profit directors — and mothers of 27 children among them — unanimously agreed that often woman's most important work can be accomplished in the unquantifiable contributions made at home with their families.
In his opening remarks, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See Mission to the UN, said that the recent understanding in UN documents referring to unpaid care work as a “burden” for women rather than a valuable good is unhelpful. It implies, he said, that a person’s work outside the home is far more valuable than a person’s work inside the home and that women have no greater gifts in caring for their loved ones than men do, or even than unrelated care-givers. The purpose of this event was to examine these presumptions.
“The whole question is complex and many considerations come into play, not least among them the values and relationships that different cultures attached to caregiving and unpaid work,” he said. “But no matter how complex the issue might be, an honest examination should begin by acknowledging the objective value of caregiving, whether done by women or men.”
“No women who desires to give of her time in this way should be stigmatized by society or penalized in comparison to other women or to men,” Archbishop Auza said, noting that policies surrounding work-life balance and maternity and paternity leave are crucial for mothers, fathers and their children.
“Humanity owes its very survival to the gift of caregiving, most notably in motherhood, and this indispensable contribution should be esteemed as such, by both women and by men.”
Mary Rice Hasson, Director of the Catholic Women’s Forum and mother of seven children, said that while some economists encourage more involvement of women to work outside the home, women’s choices regarding their work-life balance should remain in their own hands, even if it means less time in the labor market and more time with their children.
Women want to be able to contribute, she said, but there is a bias that says that a woman’s full potential is not realized if she is not receiving money for that work. What her research shows is that many women value their familial relations above being paid for outside work.
“If we view caregiving as a burden, then the obvious response is to reduce that burden. This is an erroneous framing,” Hasson said. “[Woman] don’t want to be replaced and they don’t want to be displaced. The only place we are irreplaceable is in our relationships.”
She implied that women ought to be freed from outside pressure to outsource caring for their own children.
“I think we can all agree that we desire women’s equality and women’s flourishing, but if we are really going to respect women we need to let women define those terms for themselves,” she said. “We don’t want to impose a one-size-fits-all solution. I think the best way is to do what works best in your home and your culture and in your relationships.”
Dr. Patience Fielding, Senior Technical Advisor in Education for the Salvation Army World Service Office, said her work across many cultures is rooted in this woman-led approach.
She assists women in various countries and cultures throughout the world to strengthen the impact of their work, both in inside and outside the home, through an approach tailored to the needs of their community. The Salvation Army’s approach begins by first understanding the cultural norms inside the communities they are serving.
“I make sure I speak last because I don’t want to influence their course. I want to listen first. I may have a Ph.D. but I tell them I am here to learn from you,” she said, explaining that the organization makes the most impact when they are following the lead of the indigenous communities they serve who have the most knowledge of their needs and desires. Many programs the Salvation Army implements have a dual nature of setting women up for financial success while also affording time and energy to perform the care work they highly value.
“Using the principle of subsidiarity gives them practical support to help women care for those they love,” she said.
Dr. Catherine Pakaluk, Assistant Profesor of Social Research and Economic Thought at the Busch Business School at the Catholic University of America, said that as a demographer, she follows the same principle of subsidiarity by conducting interviews with women to collect quantitative data regarding their views on childcare and professional work. Pew Data shows that mothers more than fathers expect disruptions in their career, but that most women who reduce time from work say they do not regret this choice.
She also noted research from Danish demographer Hans Peter, which reveals that caring for children brings joy and other subjective measures of happiness for women. She also noted that data show that many women are not achieving their desired family size.
Many countries have low birth rates of 1.5 children, she said, but most women in these countries desire two to three children. Countries also desire larger family size to offset the economic and social consequences of their shrinking populations, but so far, the policies intended to increase fertility rates are unsuccessful.
The mother of eight children became well-known for a viral Twitter post of her large family to challenge insensitive remarks French President Emmanuel Macron implying that mothers with multiple children are not educated. Dr. Pakaluk’s tweet with her children attending her Doctoral graduation launched a Twitter campaign in which many other successful and highly educated women joined to share their own family photos with the hashtag #PostcardsforMacron.
Andrea Picciotti-Bayer, Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association, criticized the view of some that women engaging in unpaid childcare is a “problem.”
The mother of ten said that care work is not quantifiable and cannot be counted or measured, but is transformative for both the woman and child.
Picciotti-Bayer said that recent interviews she conducted with children who grew up in the foster care system said that being loved by their foster moms transformed their lives from crisis to stability. They said that it was not the room and board they most valued, but the unpaid aspects that transformed their lives.
She shared her own experience as a lawyer balancing a job with children, and eventually decided to put her career on hold to be a full time stay at home mom.
“I struggled knowing that I was not keeping up with my profession, but the benefit to me and my family far outweighed any identifiable sacrifices to my career,” she said. Many of the skills she gained as a mother have only helped her professionally when she decided to re-enter the workforce.
“Even when mom works outside the home full-time her thoughts and concerns fixed on the good of her family and those she loves,” she said. “The woman’s work outside the home and within are not two separate lives but one single life.”