Who takes care of the women taking care?

lunes, 25 de marzo de 2024

Por: Liliana Alvarado Para: Southern Voice

My dad has a brother and two sisters. Aunty Cristi—as we call her affectionately— and I have always been close. We are neighbours, and I visit her often. I remember that as a girl, one of the things my sister and I most looked forward to was going to her house to play “aeroplanes”.

For this game, we had everything that flight attendants at that time might need – neck scarves, lapel badges, oxygen masks, seat belts, among other things – thanks to Uncle Gorki, Aunty Cristi’s husband. He had been an Aeroméxico captain for 36 years. The nature of his job meant he was not at home much, but when I did see him, he was always pleased to see me. He has always called me “pingo” because he thought I was a naughty child.

My uncle is now 84, and for the last three years or so, he has needed constant care. Their children have lived abroad for many years. It means that my uncle’s care has fallen entirely to my aunt, who, at around the same time, started to show signs of Parkinson’s.

Like all women who are carers, this role has changed her life. She has lost the freedom to live the way she used to. My uncle needs around-the-clock care. It means my aunt has almost totally been cut off from her professional, social, and recreational life.

The case of Mexico

In Mexico and across the world, there are millions of cases like this. These women care for children and elderly or disabled relatives and are overwhelmed by the extent of their caring responsibilities. They carry them out in addition to all their existing unpaid domestic duties. According to data from the National Care System Survey (ENASIC) 2022, most households in Mexico (78%) have at least one person who requires care. Moreover, 75% of care work is unpaid and carried out by women. The figure rises to 96% in the case of early childhood care.

These challenges are usually met within the family itself. Yet, it is crucial to highlight the importance of providing female carers with different kinds of help and support and involving a range of private and public actors. It is vital not only to tackle the issue itself but also to raise awareness about the need to redistribute caring responsibilities.

Redistribution of caring responsibilities

Indeed, the persistence of women’s poverty will be debated this month at the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. In this sense, the redistribution of caring responsibilities could be a way of tackling this problem. It would allow women more time to pursue personal and economic development opportunities.

I was recently in San Pedro Garza García, in Nuevo León, Mexico. I had the opportunity to participate in a talk on the Care System with the Director of Integral Family Development (DIF), Irene Ovalle. She presented actions that had been taken to reduce the burden on carers in that municipality. One of them particularly caught my attention. It is related to home relief, whereby support is provided to carers for a couple of hours a week, making it possible for them to leave the house and focus on other tasks. Irene reported that these women were reluctant to leave their relatives at first. They feared that something would happen to them. But now they are very grateful for the support.

In addition, special transport was set up to take carers to critical places such as banks, health centres, and food shops. Carers also receive a grocery card and psychological support. This is crucial for their well-being, given that, for obvious reasons, these women often suffer from exhaustion and depression.

At the national level, more resources are needed. It is fundamental to scale up best practices, to have more and better quality child daycare services, to increase support for those with disabilities and the elderly, and to guarantee greater support of different kinds for carers. This issue makes me think not only about Aunty Cristi but also about my situation. I didn’t have children, and in this country, care homes for the elderly are not a government priority. When the time comes, who will take care of me?