Bangkok, Thailand — The lockdowns and illnesses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically increased the need to care for children, the elderly and the sick. And in societies where gender inequality and biased norms persist, most of this burden has fallen on women, many of whom have had to leave their regular jobs with no idea of when they can return.
Actually, the pandemic has merely exacerbated the existing stereotypes about the role of women, who are reflexively expected to take care of their family members, house chores, and myriad other daily domestic tasks that are unpaid but vital to households, communities and economies.
Funded by the European Union, UN Women’s WeEmpowerAsia programme is responding to this chronic issue with the launch of the ‘UN Women Care Accelerator,’ an online group training and incubating programme for female entrepreneurs and businesses led by or supporting women in the care industry. The programme aims to create jobs and income for women by supporting new, creative solutions in the care sector – thus turning the unjust burden into economic opportunities for them.
Over a period of six months starting June 1, selected candidates from Asia and the Pacific will be provided with tailor-made training; paired with mentors; and connected with potential investors, partners and experts to develop and scale up their business models. Seedstars, an investment holding company, and Bopinc, a social enterprise, will co-lead the training, exchange and mentorship.
“Innovation will be crucial to address this ‘care emergency’ and turn the unjust burden into economic opportunities, boosting the number of women who lead and participate in business,” underscored Katja Freiwald, Regional Programme Manager of WeEmpowerAsia.
Even before the pandemic, women in the Asia-Pacific did on average 4 times as much unpaid care work as men did each day — in some countries up to 11 times more, according to a 2018 report by Asian Development Bank and UN Women. This has widened the gender gap in earnings and prevented women from fully participating in the economy.
In 2019, the labour force participation rate among men aged 15 and above was 76 per cent in East Asia and the Pacific, compared to 58.8 percent among women of the same age group. It was the only region in the world where women’s labour force participation had been decreasing even before the pandemic.
As UN Women’s leading partner and donor, the EU has highlighted the importance of women’s economic empowerment and a more equal sharing of care responsibilities in its Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025: “women and men in all their diversity should have equal opportunities to thrive and be economically independent; women and men should equally share caring and financial responsibilities.”
“It’s about time we recognize the important role care work plays in our society. We must pay attention to the industry as a whole and empower entrepreneurs in the care sector by providing more growth opportunities. As a public-private sector partnership, we should prioritize investment in care work for a more equal and gender-inclusive economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic,” said Anurag Maloo, Head of Partnerships (Asia-Pacific) at Seedstars.
“Our initial research has shown an emergence of innovative business models that can (partly) address unpaid care work and acceleration of these innovative models is required to ensure they can grow and be replicated,” said Emile Schmitz, Managing Director at Bopinc.
“UN Women’s Care Accelerator is a great opportunity to bring entrepreneurs together and jointly scale entrepreneurial solutions to unpaid care work.”
Applications for the programme are being accepted from:
– Care businesses* led by women or benefitting women in the Asia-Pacific;
– Startups that aim to boost women’s participation in the care economy, or provide products or services, including child and elderly care, that make care more accessible and affordable to all or improve the quality of care;
– Enterprises that offer innovative ways to create a more gender-inclusive culture in the care industry and promote an equal share of responsibilities between men and women.
A total of 15 applicants will be selected for the programme. Applications close on May 10, 2021.
*Health-tech solutions will be taken into consideration only if they have a clear focus on care.
Find out more about the accelerator here: careaccelerator.seedstars.com.
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Interested organizations who would like to take part and contribute may also reach out to Eugenia
*Eugenia Shevchenko is Acceleration Program Manager at Seedstars; Lotte-Marie Brouwer is Women’s Entrepreneurship Lead at Bopinc and Minji Kwag is International Communications Consultant at WeEmpowerAsia, UN Women
Bopinc [https://bopinc.org] is a social enterprise that aims to connect today’s low-income consumers with dignified choices of tomorrow by supporting organizations to design and deliver commercially and socially viable business models and solutions. It has offices in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Netherlands (HQ).
Seedstars [www.seedstars.com] is an investment holding company based in Switzerland. Founded in 2012, its mission is through the use of technology promote thriving entrepreneurial systems to help improve livelihoods in emerging markets, focusing on the vital “6%” (according to research by UK-based social impact charity NESTA).