EQUITY IN CAREGIVING Written by Musqan Butt

What is equity?

Equity is a common term but one that often gets confused with “equality”. However, the two words mean completely different things. You can think of equality as “sameness”, this means giving a group of people the same resources and opportunities. Equity, on the other hand, can be thought of as “fairness”. Confused? Don’t worry, we got you.

Consider a group of caregivers all tending to people who are ill. Equality would mean giving each of these caregivers the same number of resources and opportunities to support them. But take a moment to think about it, is that really fair? The group of caregivers may consist of members of different financial and gender backgrounds. There might be a man, a woman, a teenager, etc. Does giving them the same number of resources and calling it a day sound fair?

Each caregiver has unique circumstances and experiences in caregiving. One may be caring for a parent, the other for a spouse or partner and the other for a child. The people they are caring for might all have different needs. Could be an illness, a disability or an age-related need. Their circumstances and financial situations might be completely different despite them all being under the same umbrella of “caregivers”. In this case, giving them the same resources would be equality, but not equity.

To practice fairness, and equity, we would need to take into account all factors in the caregivers’ lives. This could include but is not limited to, their gender, social class, racial background and financial situation. Considering these elements then distributing resources would then be called equity. Equality means giving a group of people the same resources and opportunities, but equity goes a step further in recognizing that each person has different circumstances and then assigning resources and opportunities to allow them to reach an equal outcome.

How is the caregiving role inequitable?

You might be wondering how the caregiving role is inequitable. Firstly, it is important to understand what we mean by “inequitable”. This means that role assigning when it comes to caregiving is unjust or unfair. Take a moment to think about it. When someone says “caregiver” what’s the first thing that pops into your mind, a man or a woman? Very few people are likely to say a man. This is because the caregiving role is highly gendered and construed to be feminine. One of the ways that inequity manifests itself, particularly within the healthcare system, is through caregiving.

Other than parental caregiving to children, caregiving also includes helping the sick, the elderly or persons living with a disability. This could be a spouse or partner, family member or even a friend. Some caregivers, for example, nurses, are paid for their services, but most caregivers are family members or friends who are not paid for their caregiving services. A study found that over 70% of caregiving hours are performed by women and girls. This percentage continued to rise during the pandemic when there was an increased need for caregivers. Caregiving is a form of inequity that is highly overlooked and one that threatens women’s health, their social lives and economic standings.

According to a publication by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in most societies’ women are more likely than men to be caregivers for the sick in both healthcare settings as well as in the home. When a child is ill, women are expected to step down from their jobs to stay at home and care for the child. The father, on the other hand, is expected to play more of a financial role. A wife is expected to tend to her sick mother-in-law in addition to her other duties while her husband is off at work. If his wife is ill, the husband will continue working but employ help to perform the caregiving duties for his wife at home. When the caregiving roles are reversed, however, the wife is expected to stay at home and tend to her sick husband. If she didn’t do this, would society consider her a good wife?

The global cultural bias of assigning women the role of caregiving has had vast repercussions. Women are unable to progress in their careers, and they are exposed to the risks of poor mental and physical health. In most cases, they have to shoulder this burden without any support. This bias is a reflection of inequality, and if we are to bring an end to such injustices, then there needs to be a shift in our systems. We need policies that are not influenced by prejudice and cultural privileges such as wage gaps and the lack of recognition of unpaid caregiving, which particularly affects women.

How can you help?

At Suruvi-Care for Caregivers, we recognize that while it may take some time to fully overcome the system that has been in place for thousands of years, we can still take steps today to begin making a difference. We must start raising awareness and challenging social and cultural norms to achieve our goal. We must take action now to make sure that the changes we hope for in the future become a reality.

Having meaningful dialogues about health equity in the caregiving role can propel us forward in our move to integrate equality and equity in caregiving. We must use our voices to propagate this message and support the work of women over the years, which has been largely ignored. This will help to bring recognition to their efforts and improve their status in society and the world.

You can make a difference today by sharing this message and raising awareness. This conversation is a crucial first step towards bringing gender inequity to an end and allowing caregivers, particularly women, to be recognized and appreciated for their hard work and dedication. It is up to us to stand up to prejudice and fight for justice. Suruvi’s Caregiver Connection Cafes are a platform to have conversations that help to redefine the landscape for caregivers. Book your space, join the conversation, and be the difference that needs to happen.




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