“I‘m a hairdresser (…) but I need to take care of my aunt [who has a severe disability], of my daughter [who’s only 12 years old] and the house” says Lorena, from Río Paraná, in Corrientes, Argentina. Just like many other women in the region, Lorena must balance her professional life with housework and caregiving responsibilities. These responsibilities are particularly challenging for those who live in informal settlements, also known as “working-class neighborhoods” (barrios populares). In Argentina, at least 4.5 million people reside in these types of settlements, and 2.5 million are dedicated to caregiving tasks.
In the study “Family caregiving dynamics of informal settlements in Argentina” (available in Spanish) we assess the main barriers that families who live in informal settlements face to take care of their dependents, in comparison to those who live in neighborhoods with adequate infrastructure.
The absence of basic services such as clean running water, electricity or access to a sewage system are some of the obstacles faced by communities from informal settlements. Additionally, half of this population does not own a property title. Also, more than 40% of the inhabitants are underage, which means that almost half of the households have caregiving responsibilities (almost two times the number of the ones in neighborhoods with adequate infrastructure).
The IDB study focuses on the 2.5 million people who live in these settlements and are responsible for, at least:
- One child of 0 to 4 years old
- One person with a disability and dependence
- One elder with dependence
In this post, we share our main findings.
Caregiving has its costs. The resources families need to take care of others are: time, material goods, intermediate services (such as health, education, transport, among others) and an adequate environment. Through the study we found major differences in the rate of access to these resources when we compare families from formal and informal settlements, which makes the burden of caregiving a lot bigger and more expensive for the latter.
For example, in terms of access to resources, even though 88% of the families in barrios populares with caregiving responsibilities have at least one member with a paid job, for every hour these families dedicate to work, they earn 47% less than their pairs in neighborhoods with adequate infrastructure.
Furthermore, caregiving work demands a great volume of time and requires several tasks to be completed, such as cooking and cleaning. In general, personal, and institutional services – such as childcare facilities and respite centers for dependent elders – are key to free some of the time dedicated to caregiving and redirect it towards income-generating activities. However, given that for families located in informal settlements the access to financial resources is very restricted, assigning these tasks to an external institution is not usually an option. In fact, we have discovered that in barrios populares the proportion of families with small children who are enrolled in these spaces is less than 20%, compared to formal settlements, where enrollment reaches 37%.
On the other hand, the precariousness of housing and the access difficulties to basic essential services increases the time, goods, and services that families need to provide care. This is the case for 31% of the families with caregiving responsibilities that live in informal settlements, who affirm they have health issues related to the contamination of drinking water. In formal settlements, only 9% of the population faces this same problem.
In view of this context, generations grow in an unfavorable environment, where not only social inequalities prevail, but also gender inequalities.
Time is gold
For many households established in barrios populares, the only available resource to solve their caregiving dynamics is time.
We have identified that these families dedicate 10 more hours weekly to unpaid labor than those who live in neighborhoods with adequate infrastructure. This difference is even larger for women: each week, they dedicate 11 more hours to unpaid labor than the women who do not have caregiving responsibilities, and almost twice the time men dedicate to this kind of work.
This disbalance between the caregiving load impacts women and the youth in differentiated ways:
- Only 45% of women with caregiving responsibilities has a paid job, compared to 77% of their male counterparts. Women are also forced to dedicate less hours to paid work due to these responsabilities.
- When families cannot fulfill their caregiving needs, this job also falls under the responsibility of young members, especially younger women, something that impacts their school trajectory. In informal settlements, 54% of young boys and girls in families with caregiving responsibilities have interrupted their studies before finishing high school.
Based on the previous information, we can conclude that the difficulties to access basic services, financial resources and food, poor condition environments, and the absence of caregiving alternatives, are challenges that compromise the wellbeing and full development of the families that inhabit informal settlements.
What can we do to decrease gaps?
- Caregiving services in barrios populares: investmenting in care infrastructure for children and elders with dependence is key to bringing these services closer to the communities.
- Specialized caregiving education: women who live in informal settlements have the practical experience of caregiving but are not paid for it. Supporting education programs related to caretaking, such as nursing work, or specialized care for elders with dependence or similar, would allow them to access highly demanded formal jobs.
- Urban development projects with a caregiving and gender perspective: the interventions done in informal settlements must consider the dynamics of care in beneficiary households, and the differentiated needs that women have. They must also ensure that the care infrastructure is eligible for financing with investment loans.
As a part of our Vision 2025, the IDB is committed to closing gender gaps through our projects, and we understand that gender mainstreaming in sectors, such as urban development, are key to reach this goal.
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