Uganda can tap into $11t global care sector

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Liz Nabakooza Kakooza   

What you need to know:

  • The care economy takes diverse forms across the globe. In regions with accessible formal care, high costs often hinder access while care workers remain underpaid.

In today’s dynamic global landscape, the care economy has emerged as a trillion-dollar force, affecting the lives of billions of people around the world. 

It encompasses the vital work of caregivers, both paid and unpaid, who support children, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and healthcare workers, among others.  However, despite its undeniable significance, care work worldwide is underpaid and disproportionately carried by women and girls. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the gender parities, forcing countless women out of the workforce as they become primary caregivers for their families. Paid care workers, too, face challenges such as insufficient support, limited benefits and poor working conditions.

According to Oxfam International, “if we valued care work the same as other work, it would be worth nearly $11 trillion a year’’.  The care economy takes diverse forms across the globe. In regions with accessible formal care, high costs often hinder access, while care workers remain underpaid. In other areas, informal child care options are limited, restricting women’s pursuit of careers.

Additionally, domestic workers bear the brunt of care responsibilities without adequate legal protections and regulatory frameworks, making them vulnerable to exploitation. 

However, technology and innovation offer a ray of hope by making the care economy more transparent, secure, and accessible. This includes developing new care models, strengthening worker support systems, and challenging gender stereotypes. 

The World Economic Forum’s Chief Economist’s Outlook 2023 has identified the care economy as a standout performer in a slow-growth world. This booming sector presents an opportunity for Uganda to harness its potential. Yet, while Uganda may claim relative success in the care realm, it faces pressing challenges, including the absence of a minimum wage and the lack of regulatory frameworks. This critical issue has triggered a “brain-drain”, with care workers seeking opportunities abroad, particularly in the Middle East - a concerning trend that bears resemblance to a modern form of labour exploitation.

In contrast, countries in Latin America have set an impressive example of how to leverage the care economy. Their forward-thinking policies prioritise both access to care and the empowerment of individuals to take charge of their own well-being. This benefits society and  also contributes to economic growth.

Colombia offers a compelling example of how to reshape perceptions and create change. The Colombian National Statistical System (DANE) took a pioneering step in recognising the economic value of the care economy. Legislation passed in 2010 led to the inclusion of the care economy in national accounting, allowing for measurement in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) impact. This shift broadened the scope of the care economy to include activities like shopping and home maintenance.

The results are astounding. A 2020 technical bulletin revealed that the care economy accounted for approximately 20 percent of Colombia’s GDP, surpassing even the financial and agricultural sectors in economic significance. This revelation underscores the essential role of the care economy in daily life, challenging traditional notions of work and productivity.

Uganda stands at a crossroads, presented with a unique opportunity to transform the care economy into a formal productive industry. By addressing issues such as the lack of regulatory frameworks, Uganda can retain and develop a skilled care workforce and unlock the potential of this $11 trillion sector by following in the footsteps of countries like Colombia and other countries that have reaped the rewards of their forward-thinking policies. It’s high time we embrace the care economy as a driving force for economic growth, gender equality and social progress.

Ms Liz Nabakooza Kakooza is an expert member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council for the Care Economy.