Caring for Women Who Care

While the pandemic has highlighted the importance of care work to our collective health and wellbeing – including pandemic control – it has also exposed its low value as well as its feminized, racialized roots. The positive news is that women’s economic justice can be strengthened through very practical solutions and tools.

Pamela Uppal joined me at Openly’s most recent Connection Café to share research and solutions from her work as a Policy Advisor at the Ontario Nonprofit Network. We gathered a group of changemakers from the nonprofit, business, social innovation and academic sectors for a meaningful conversation grounded in Pamela’s work on decent work for women and the care economy. Using a gender and intersectional lens, we reflected together on these issues and connected the dots between the lived experiences of women changemakers in the social impact field and the larger systemic structures influencing care work and the care economy.

So, what do we mean by care work? 

Pamela defined care work as activities and relations involved in meeting the physical, psychological and emotional needs of adults and children, old and young, frail and able-bodied. Her review of global research shows that the care economy encompasses a spectrum of direct and indirect activities, and paid and unpaid labour. It includes direct care jobs like child care and home care as well as the responsibility of emotional labour in the home, community and workplaces. Care work, broadly defined, is largely feminized and racialized. We see this echoed in the nonprofit sector’s workforce composition and practices.

Participants reflected on where they saw themselves on the care spectrum, and noted that the intersectional analysis revealed layers of privilege and inequity.

Pamela helped us to explore practical solutions and resources, including:

  • Urging investments in care infrastructure and and ensure care work is decent work
  • Building decent work movements with care sectors
  • Pooling risk and resources to implement decent work
  • Implementing a decent work charter, compensation practices and pension plans.

I offered some simple tips for women changemakers to sustain their wellbeing as care workers, such as:

  • If possible, invest in individual and/or team coaching 
  • Establish work time boundaries, e.g., no non-urgent emails between 5pm-8am
  • Develop a small flex fund and encourage team members to use up to $X for personal care, no questions asked
  • Create (virtual) spaces for learning, reflection and sensemaking with trusted colleagues and friends.

I want to thank Pamela for the important work she is leading and for sharing it with us so generously. And special thanks to our participants for a lively conversation and their commitment to greater equity and justice for all women who care. We left this session with information, ideas and resources to turn our learning into action (see links under ‘Some helpful ONN Links’)!

I’d love to hear from our readers –  How does this thinking resonate with what you see in your work? What strategies and solutions have you implemented? What learning would you like to share? Let’s continue this important conversation!

Lisa Villeneuve (Watson)

Openly’s monthly Connection Café is a space for meaningful dialogue grounded in learning, relationships and good practice. Our purpose is to sustain the work and wellbeing of changemakers through an extraordinary time. Each session profiles an intriguing topic and an amazing guest expert to help guide our discussion and offer helpful tips and tools.

Surprising facts:

  • Pre-pandemic, the monetary value of unpaid care work globally for women aged 15 and over was at least $10.8 trillion annually, three times the size of the world’s tech industry.[1]

  • During the pandemic, According to RBC Economics, women aged 35-39 years are exiting the labour force “in droves”, with mothers of children under 6 years accounting for two-thirds of the exodus in this key age group due to tough choices being made between health, labour, and caregiving.[2]


2. Dawn Desjardins and Carrie Freestone (2020), Canadian women continue to exit the labour force, RBC Economics.

Pamela Uppal hosted Openly’s second Connection Café

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