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Ximena Mejía Gutiérrez

Blind eyes, deaf ears: the care crisis in the world, a pending debate for the International Political Economy

- The International Political Economy has omitted to get involved in the debate of the current care crisis.

Blind eyes, deaf ears: the care crisis in the world, a pending debate for the International Political Economy

The International Political Economy has omitted to get involved in the debate of the current care crisis.

The mainstream approaches and theories of the discipline of International Relations (IR) continue to make the mistake of ignoring those phenomena that go beyond the limits of the State, companies, international organizations or those particular actors that influence their decisions. Although in recent decades IR have focused their attention on phenomena that occur at the individual level, the truth is that this category has focused on those events that are commonly associated with the public sphere and, therefore, constitute facts. androcentric in nature.

In this regard, analytical tools such as the International Political Economy (IPE) approach have maintained a vision that has commonly ignored problems associated with the sphere of the feminine, but that have serious repercussions for all humanity. Such is the case of the current care crisis facing the world, and which is normally discussed from the perspective of Gender Theory and Feminist approaches.

Thus, in this article I will emphasize the importance that the IR and, specifically, the EPI include in their discussions the postulates of the Feminist Economy, in order for the care crisis to obtain greater legitimacy as a public problem.

First, it is necessary to remember that the EPI is in charge of studying who are the winners and losers of the economic game on the international scene. Thus, the phenomena that it commonly analyzes are associated with dynamics of the macroeconomic environment; for example, commercial and financial negotiations; the rampant strengthening of the power of private entities and their influence in the international system; relationships of socioeconomic dependency between States, etc. However, EPI has dispensed with the study of those activities that support life and are commonly associated with the private, feminine, non-public, and invisible spheres. By this I mean the so-called domestic and care work, whose contribution to sustaining the productive economy has not been recognized and remains invisible even from the academic sphere.

Domestic and care work comprises two types of activities: direct, personal and relational care activities—such as feeding a baby or caring for a sick relative—and indirect care activities, such as cooking and cleaning. Without these actions and processes, it would be difficult for people to develop all their strength, intellectual capacities, abilities, and it would even be impossible to guarantee their own survival. Therefore, care and domestic work ensure the maintenance of the labor force and, according to the ILO, an estimated 16.4 billion hours are dedicated to unpaid care work every day. This corresponds to 2 billion people who work eight hours a day without pay, who are mainly women. If these shares were valued on the basis of a minimum hourly wage, they would represent 9% of global GDP.

Taking into account the importance of these activities and, based on the fact that the EPI seeks to answer the question: who benefits and who loses in the economic game? current care crisis that afflicts the world.

This care crisis is related to population aging; the increase in the number of people of dependency age; the state cut to public care services and the increase in economic and time poverty of women around the world. In general terms, the ILO estimates that, by the year 2030, there will be a total of 2.3 billion people of dependent age, who will require attention and care. A report published by the organization Oxfam, in 2020, indicates that this scenario marks the probability that the financing of this care will cause families in low- and middle-income countries to fall back below the poverty line. This is due to the fact that in these countries the cuts to public care services are greater—or these are simply nonexistent or inefficient—so it is expected that this deficit will be remedied with a greater involvement of women in domestic work and care. Therefore, they will have even less time for productive activities—it is expected that many will be forced to leave their jobs—so that the income of these households will decrease, widening the gaps in economic inequality between countries.

This problem has important implications for asymmetric power relations between states; that is, it is a subject that constitutes the epistemic core of the ECE approach. However, the gynopia that still characterizes International Relations has limited the involvement of its main theoretical tools in the discussion of this type of problem.

This omission can be attributed to two issues. First, it is necessary to remember that, like most of the social sciences, IR originates from an androcentric vision; This gender bias favors that it is only considered relevant to discuss those phenomena associated with the public sphere and the masculine. The plane of the reproductive economy is not very important, because historically it has been considered that care and housework are activities that women carry out due to their maternal nature. Under this reasoning, actions that start from maternal love would not have to be remunerated, right?

This logic favors the invisibility of the economic importance of domestic and care work for the maintenance of the labor force and, in general, for the entire economy. In addition, this logic contributes to perpetuating gender injustice in our societies, since it is women who indisputably end up doing the majority of these tasks—in 2018, the ILO recorded that, worldwide, women perform 76, 2% of all unpaid care work, spending 3.2 times more than men on this work; that is, 4 hours and 25 minutes a day compared to 1 hour and 23 minutes in the case of men.

Returning to the discussion of the omission of the ECE in the debate on the care crisis, this can also be understood under the over-specificity that has been attributed to the so-called “gender issues”. It gives the impression that everything that has to do with inequality gaps between genders or that involves the historical oppression of women must be approached from the specific field of Gender Theory, Feminisms or Women's Studies. Although it is important that the different disciplines delimit their respective epistemic fields, the fact of addressing this type of problem as specific issues of these fields of knowledge only contributes to perpetuating their exclusion from public reality. For this reason, I maintain that mainstream approaches such as EPI are required to begin to be inserted in the debate on issues as relevant as the current care crisis, because they are phenomena that affect the development of nations and, therefore, the fulfillment of objectives of well-being that most States have subscribed to by the year 2030. If we do not begin to address these types of issues with greater commitment, it will be difficult to achieve such ambitious goals in less than a decade and it will be even more so with all the problems that have brought about by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Mejía, Ximena. “Ojos ciegos, oídos sordos: la crisis de cuidados en el mundo, un debate pendiente para la Economía Política Internacional .” CEMERI, 22 sept. 2022,