Valuing and Investing in Unpaid Care and Domestic Work - Country Case Study: Philippines


Section 1


The Philippines ranks 17th in the world in terms of reducing its gender gap on various economic, political and social measures (WEF, 2021). It is the only country in Asia to make it into the top 20 of that ranking. What makes this performance more impressive is the fact that the Philippines is classified as a lower-middle-income country (World Bank, 2021b). Despite constraints on fiscal resources and developmental challenges, the Philippines has managed to close its gender gaps in educational attainment, health and survival as well as women’s representation in senior managerial, professional and technical roles (WEF, 2021).

This progress, however, is undercut by the female labour force participation rate, which stands at 47.6 per cent, compared with 74.8 per cent for men (ASEAN Secretariat, 2020b). The demands of unpaid care work and home production account for more of women’s time – constraining their participation in the paid market economy (ESCAP, 2021a; Abrigo and Francisco-Abrigo, 2019). The COVID-19 pandemic has further intensified the unpaid care and domestic work responsibilities of women, caused by the school closures, mobility restrictions and difficulties in food and water provisioning (UN Women, 2020).

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) initially commissioned research to assess the impact of the pandemic on the unpaid care economy in countries across Asia and the Pacific. Next, it spotlighted the role and value of women’s unpaid care and domestic work among Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These efforts dovetailed into the ASEAN Comprehensive Framework on Care Economy, developed as a result of ASEAN governments’ resolve to put care at the centre of public policy in recovery from the pandemic efforts (ASEAN, 2021). This framework identifies strategic priority areas for a multipronged, multidimensional and multifaceted response to leaving no one behind. To strengthen the close technical collaboration between ESCAP and ASEAN on addressing the unpaid care economy in ASEAN Member States, ESCAP commissioned countrylevel case studies on Cambodia, Indonesia and the Philippines to develop a fine-tuned analysis of the role of unpaid care and domestic work within the larger care economy and how it must be addressed.

This case study on the Philippines documents the country’s progress in addressing women’s unpaid care and domestic work within the larger legislative, institutional and political economy context. Most importantly, this case study tracks the evolution of the unpaid care and domestic work agenda within national policies and the actions of women’s machineries, such as the Philippine Commission on Women (PCW). Using the conceptual framework promoted in ESCAP’s regional and subregional reports on the unpaid care economy (ESCAP, 2021a and 2021b), this case study highlights promising practices and forthcoming initiatives under four care policy categories – care infrastructure, care-related social protections, care services and employment-related care policies. The aim is to strengthen the case for recognizing, valuing and redistributing unpaid care work in a manner that can enable women to participate in the public life of the nation on more favourable terms.

The advance of women’s economic, social and political participation by acknowledging and addressing their care work ties into Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality, especially target 5.4 that seeks to “recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate”.2 As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, care is an issue that cuts across all 17 SDGs. Whether it is the goal of no poverty (SDG 1), good health and well-being (SDG 3), access to education for girls (SDG 4), decent work (SDG 8) or reducing inequalities (SDG 10), addressing the gendered and unequal organization of care work is one of the necessary elements in encouraging women’s economic participation.

This report illustrates the case of the Philippines in tackling the multifaceted issue of women’s unpaid care and domestic work, the institutional arrangements needed as well as the challenges and barriers to implementation success. It begins with a macroeconomic and sociopolitical overview of the country. Within this context, it outlines the legislative frameworks, women’s machineries and formal and informal institutional mechanisms that drive or hinder the policy agenda of unpaid care. Next, the nature of women’s work in the Philippines, its gendered effects and its policies, programmes and promising initiatives to address women’s differentiated care needs are discussed. Finally, challenges and pockets of resistance to incorporating care into the policy agenda are engaged with to offer recommendations for action planning aimed at buttressing the ongoing efforts of policymakers and civil society actors in the country. In addition to examples of what the national and local government units are doing, relevant regional and global promising practices are showcased suitably.

Data for this report were compiled from various secondary sources published by the Government of the Philippines, United Nations agencies (including ESCAP, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Bank) and regional and other international organizations, such as the ASEAN Secretariat, the Asian Development Bank and Oxfam. Information-sharing sessions were conducted with senior officials of the PCW to understand the background and evolution of the women’s agenda in the country as well as the current emphasis and initiatives on women’s economic engagement, especially unpaid care and domestic work and their connection with women’s paid work.

The leadership, policy and programmatic efforts ongoing within the Philippines serve as a timely reminder to countries on what is possible as well as what the barriers and challenges to progress are. Most crucially, it serves as a reminder that the work is not yet complete, and continued efforts are needed towards a care-responsive and gender-transformative recovery.