As unpaid care workers, women are contributing significantly to an underground economy to the tune of $51 billion in the health and social service industry, compared to the $42 billion paid labour. But the issue is much bigger than that, says York University Sociology Professor Pat Armstrong.
“Unpaid health care is a gender issue, an equity issue and a human rights issue,” Armstrong notes in her recent article Unpaid Health Care Work: An Indicator of Equity, published by the World Health Organization’s regional office, the Pan American Health Organization.
Half a million Canadian women compared to a quarter million men, spent 10 or more hours a week providing unpaid care or assistance to seniors, according to Statistics Canada.
It is an equity issue not only because women primarily do the most demanding and daily labour, but also because women with fewest resources are the most likely to do the heaviest work, and are the least likely to receive unpaid care, according to Armstrong. She adds, “As a result, they experience inequities in the quality of care they receive and their rights are violated, making it a human rights issue.”
The policy paper also identifies strategies for addressing the disparities resulting from unpaid care work. “It intends to provide an integrated picture of the factors shaping changes in unpaid health care work, in the nature, extent and distribution of this work, and of the consequences not only for individuals doing the work but also for the labour force, for those with care needs and for societies in general.”
Two thirds of women in Canada who provide four or more hours of care weekly experience significant job related consequences, causing negative impact on their own health and their families’ wellbeing, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.