How a citywide social system relieves women from unpaid care work

Claudia López Hernández is a Colombian politician. She was a Senator of the Republic of Colombia until October 2019, when she was elected Mayor of Bogotá – becoming the first woman as well as the first openly LGBT+ person to hold this position.

In Colombia, we don’t have a formal Social Security pension system that takes care of our citizens in times of need. Half of our capital city was built informally by families, brick by brick, journey by journey. This means that almost half of our economy is informal, too, and our social security system is built on unpaid care work by women

Today, 30% of Bogotá’s female population, that is roughly 1.2 million women, are devoted mainly to unpaid care work, with an average of ten hours per day devoted to this type of work. Also, 90% of caregivers in Bogotá are women. This is why we have such a big gap between women and men when it comes to the level of income, unemployment and poverty. I’m the first elected woman in the Mayor’s office in Bogotá, so I consider it my duty to take advantage of this hard-earned opportunity and try to close this gap. 

As the Mayor of Bogotá, I cannot make decisions at the national level. But the decisions I make at the city level have a big impact, too. Bogotá is the capital of Colombia and its largest city. It produces one-third of Colombia’s total GDP, and half of the Colombian national government income is paid by taxes of Bogotans. As our first step, we have created a network of various types of equipment and social services in Bogotá, both public and private. Thanks to this network, we can provide relief for caregivers and care for vulnerable citizens, as well as support the necessary cultural transformation to change things further moving forward.

As the Mayor of Bogotá, I cannot make decisions at the national level. But the decisions I make at the city level have a big impact, too.”

For Latin America, the District System of Care is one of the ways being used to overcome the feminisation of poverty and inequalities. Read more about Bogota care blocks.

Relief for caregivers

Our caregivers are overburdened by their unpaid work and need relief. They need better education, income opportunities and time for themselves, so that they can equally grasp at the economic, social and political opportunities. That is why we recognise the need to redistribute this care work over the public and private systems. 

The District Care System is a set of services, regulations, policies, and technical and institutional actions that seeks to recognise, redistribute and reduce care work, understanding it as a necessary social function for the daily life of people and the functioning of society. Bogotá has a high demand for care services. 11% of the population depend on care services, and a high percentage of these services remain unpaid. The District Care System reflects the city’s commitment with cultural transformation around the subject of care work. It was approved in the Local Development Plan with 25 goals and a budget of more than $830 million USD.

Institutionalised care for vulnerable citizens

The second important service we provide is taking care of the vulnerable people. We offer care, cultural, educational and health services for kids, the elders, and people with disabilities. 

Today, 30% of Bogotá's female population, that is roughly 1.2 million women, are devoted mainly to unpaid care work, with an average of ten hours per day devoted to this type of work. Also, 90% of caregivers in Bogotá are women.

Cultural transformation

At the base of these issues is the presumption that if you are a woman, you are supposed to be the caregiver, period. No, no, no. Everybody can provide care. Men can learn to care and must learn to care. The first step of unpaid care work redistribution needs to be between family members. Then it can be redistributed between the public sector and the family, and later between the family, the private sector, and the public sector.

These are the services of the citywide care system in Bogotá. We started from zero on January 1st, 2020, and so far we are providing services for roughly 100,000 women. We hope we’re going to be able to reach at least 1 million women by the end of our term in 2024. 

“We started from zero on January 1st, 2020, and so far we are providing services for roughly 100,000 women.”

We had this fantastic opportunity, which we’ve taken advantage of: designing a district care system in the capital, based on the social services and social equipment that Bogotá has around the city, both public and private – so that we are creating and connecting a network.

Moreover, we have managed to include our care system as the third pillar of the Urban Master Development Plan of Bogotá for the next 14 years, alongside the environmental system and the mobility system. In that time, I hope that we will develop a political base and voice that is so strong, it will turn this citywide care system into a nationwide one.

The essay is based on Claudia López Hernández’s speech in the webinar hosted by the UNDP’s Strategic Innovation Unit, Gabriella Gomez Mont, and the city of Bogotá. 

Photos: cover photo Flickr by Pedro Szekely, photo 2 source