Joint Op-Ed by United Nations Resident Coordinator in BiH, Dr. Ingrid Macdonald and UN Women Representative in BiH, Jo-Anne Bishop
On the occasion of 29 October, first International Day of Care and Support
Why we should all care about care
When women stay at home, take care of the family and the elderly, when they choose to pause or even stop their careers because of family obligations – it is often due to care work. This type of work considers housework, taking care of children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, and it is very often invisible, underestimated and underpaid if done professionally. At the same time, many women in BiH perform these duties without any compensation.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has the largest percentage of inactive women in the labour market in Europe. According to the 2022 Labour Force Survey, out of the total number of employed persons in BiH, only 36.8% of women are employed. Women cite unpaid care work as one of the main reasons they do not look for jobs, they do not start businesses, are forced to work part-time jobs, or slow their career progression and professional development.
Women in BiH spend an average of six hours a day on unpaid care work. In reality, this means two jobs for those who are working – unpaid, as well as the paid. This data is from the Baseline Study on Care Economy, the first comprehensive study on care economy in BiH conducted by Economic Institute Sarajevo and UN Women. Spending this much on care work is costly to both women and the society. But for women, the major cost is the unrealized potential to participate and lead in the economy, politics, and society at large.
Leveling the care work burden
The public, civil society, and private sector in BiH have started recognizing the need to address the uneven burden of care work. Because of the rapid shrinking of the labour market due to emigration, companies have started encouraging more equitable and robust maternity leave policies, encouraging more men to take paternity leave, and introducing more flexible working arrangements. Some companies, such as Violeta from Široki Brijeg and GS TMT from Travnik, and are opening kindergartens and elderly care facilities for their employees.
Civil society organizations are also responding to care needs through increased advocacy efforts to lobby for policy change and through directly providing care services across several areas, including homecare services for the elderly. Governments have initiated important measures as well. Policies have been introduced to legally recognize parents as full-time caregivers for children or people with disabilities, allowing them to receive income for the care they provide, and have introduced new types of childcare compensations.
However, these efforts need to be expanded. Recognizing, reducing, and redistributing unpaid care work requires systemic and multi-sectoral response from social protection, healthcare, employment, education, economic development, as well as the private sector, civil society, financial institutions, and donors. Transforming the care economy is one of the critical areas to achieve gender equality and inclusive growth, and to advance progress towards the Agenda 2030.
Systemic and holistic investment in care economy can enable more women to be active in the labour market, but can also generate employment. In BiH, the formal care economy accounts for approximately 120,000 jobs or roughly 15% of total employment (compared to an average of 17% across other European countries). This includes people employed in the education and health sector, providers of residential care, and social work services in both the private and public sectors. Increased demands for care require an increased labour force. For instance, based on 2020 data, to accommodate around 6.600 children who were not enrolled in pre-school in BiH, an additional 1,104 workers would need to be employed, out of which 1,035 would be women. New employment in the pre-school education sector would have an additional chain effect on the wider economy.
Care is everyone’s responsibility
In order to address the existing obstacles for women in the labour market, and systemically invest in care, the United Nations are supporting key stakeholders in BiH in reforming the care economy. Within the global Generation Equality initiative, UN Women in BiH has launched the Action Coalition on Economic Justice and Rights, to bring together governments, public institutions, UN agencies, international financial organizations, donors, academia, civil society, and the private sector, and generate commitments to empower women while transforming the care economy. To support these efforts, along with conducting the Baseline Study on Care Economy, which features care economy models to pilot and recommendations to advance reform, the first governmental stakeholder, the FBiH Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, led by the Minister Adnan Delic, became a member of Global Care Alliance. The Ministry pledged to draft a law on social services, a strategy for the development of the social and child protection system, as well as several other measures in the field of social protection.
Care work is a foundation of sustainable development. Without it, individuals, families, societies, and economies would not be able to survive and thrive. We all receive or give care throughout our lives in different forms and capacities. Given its fundamental significance for the sustainability of life, care cannot be left solely to women, either as unpaid work or as low-paid or informal-paid work. Coordinated, strategic, and holistic investment in care is needed both directly by governments, but also in partnership with civil society and the private sector. We should all care about care because care concerns us all.
UN entities involved in this initiative
United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women