Women and the Care Economy

Worldwide trends reflecting the unequal burden of care, as well as a mismatch of care needs and care services available (in both public and private sectors) and the impact this has on families and women’s economic and public participation are mirrored in Egypt. The recent UN Women report The Role of the Care Economy in Promoting Gender Equality: Progress of Women in the Arab States 2020 revealed that in Egypt, married women spend seven times more time than that of married men on unpaid care work, while unmarried women spend 6.5 times more time as unmarried men.[1] Employed and unemployed women in Egypt spend almost the same amount of time on unpaid care work, reflecting the double burden many women face. There is also a mismatch between care needs in the home and available services, which limits the ability to redistribute unpaid care responsibilities. The number of nurseries currently available in Egypt is limited, with enrolment rates of around 8 per cent and[2] although the enrolment has been increasing significantly in the last few years, the rate is still far below the SDG target of reaching 60% of children enrolled in nurseries by 2030.

The above report also posits that expanding decent jobs in the care sector can be a major driver of private sector growth and women’s engagement in paid work. Between 2009–2017, private sector employment in Egypt grew faster in paid care sectors (education, health, and social work) than in the rest of the economy (at 13 versus 1.8 per cent).[3] Addressing gender imbalances in unpaid care work and investing in the paid care sector would equally increase women’s economic empowerment and reduce gender disparity in the Egyptian labour market, as women form a significant percentage of employees in the paid care sector. It is estimated that increasing women’s labour force participation rate in Egypt to match that of men’s would result in an increase of 34 per cent in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).[4]

The regional report further recommends expanding quality Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) services to redistribute the share of unpaid work between the household and the government. Expanding quality ECCE services would give women choices for childcare thus enabling them to join or return to the labour market. The Government has recently announced plans to establish more nurseries and childcare centres.[5] In addition, under new directives from President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, nurseries will now be treated as micro, small or medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), granting them eligibility for all incentives available under the MSMEs Act.[6]

Through its partnerships with the Government of Egypt, UN Women aims to support evidenced-based policies and services in support of mobilizing the Care Economy sector in support of women’s work inside and outside of the home. Work aims to increase policy makers awareness of the potential of investments in the care economy to meet multiple development priorities. UN Women also works with the Government – including the Ministry of Social Solidarity- to enhance women’s access to support for their work int home, including support to the Working Women’s Service Centres and Social Clubs throughout Egypt.

Cutting across all of UN Women’s work in Economic Empowerment, Leadership, Ending Gender-Based Violence, and Women, Peace and Security is supported to challenging gender stereotypes about women’s and men’s responsibilities concerning unpaid care and household work, and deepening the understanding at all levels of the need to support and redistribute this work more equally.

[1] UN Women. 2020. The Role of the Care Economy in Promoting Gender Equality: Progress of Women in the Arab States 2020. p. 91.

[2] UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund). 2017. “UNICEF Annual Report 2017: Egypt”, as cited in UN Women 2020. p. 112.

[3] UN Women 2020. p. 100.

[4] World Bank 2018c. as cited in UN Women 2020. p. 108.

[5] Egypt Today. 2021. “Egypt establishes more nurseries, childcare centers in support to working women.” 18 April.

[6] ‎Spokesman of the Egyptian Presidency.‎ Facebook post. 19 April 2021. Accessed 21 April 2021.