In Bogotá, the unpaid care burden falls disproportionately on women who, on average, devote 3 hours more daily to this type of work than men. Care work is usually unpaid, undervalued, and assumed to be a female responsibility in a male chauvinistic culture that overlooks the social and economic contributions of female caretakers, whose work, if paid, would account for 13% of Bogota’s GPD and 20% of Colombia’s GDP.
The care burden, in particular for low-income women, limits the possibilities of professional development and political participation, dampers self-care, and exacerbates women’s time poverty which is a structural cause of gender inequality. With daycares, schools, and elderly homes closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has reached alarming proportions: 30% of Bogotá’s female population (that is 1.2 million women) now devote an average of 10 additional hours to care-related work full-time.
In order to avoid women’s care work resulting in neglecting their own lives and fostering economic dependency and inequality, Bogotá designed and launched the first city-level Care System in Latin America. It is an innovative solution to recognize the contribution of caregivers; redistribute responsibility more equitably between women and men; and reduce women’s unpaid care work so they can pursue personal development and self-care.
Bogota's District Care System offers services that address the high care demands in a shared manner between the city government, the national government, the private sector, communities, and households. Its operation design simultaneously provides services for women who provide care and for the people who they care for. For example, while a female caregiver enrolls in a program to finish high school, her child and child's father engage in playful and physical activities provided by the System.
Caregivers can access these services in the Care Blocks (1) distributed throughout the city, or through our home relay programs. For women who live in rural or peripheral areas with difficult access, Care Buses, the mobile version of Care Blocks, are deployed. Today, four Care Blocks and two Care Buses are in operation. More than 4,000 women have benefited from services in Care Blocks, and more than 2,700 through Care Buses.
The System also includes workshops and cultural change campaigns for families and society at large to overcome gender norms that allocate care responsibility exclusively on women. Men’s Care School, in which they learn housework activities and acquire abilities to take care of others, is one of our key strategies to foster cultural change.
Moreover, the Care System underlies the city’s Economic Reactivation Strategy to boost women’s access to employment and entrepreneurship. By releasing women’s time that was formerly devoted to unpaid care work, they are able to engage in education programs to enhance their productivity designed by the Secretary for Women and SENA (2). This Economic Reactivation Strategy also stimulates the creation of employment opportunities for women through alliances with the private sector, particularly in historically masculine sectors such as construction and transportation.
Furthermore, as women’s time is released, they can engage in political activities, reducing gender inequality in the political arena. Bogotá’s Secretary for Women accompanies them in this process, with programs such as the School for Parity (Escuela Par) which offers practical political skills.
Yet Bogotá’s Secretary for Women isn’t only at the forefront of women’s economic development and wellbeing. It is also implementing effective policies for the prevention and attention of gender-based violence. “Shelter Homes” (Casas Refugio) guarantee the reception of female victims of gender violence and their families, and provide them with psychosocial, legal, pedagogical, nutritional, and first aid support. In the last year and a half, 429 women and 422 accompanying children and adolescents have received shelter.
At the end of 2020, the Secretary for Women launched a new legal aid program for victims of gender-based violence in five hospitals, which tended to 1,073 women in 2021. Likewise, it provides free psychosocial and legal services for female victims of gender violence through our hotline “Línea púrpura” (21,886 women received support between January 2020 and May 31st 2021).
And last, but not least, we offer training to Bogotá’s police force on Human Rights, Gender and Intersectionality approaches, and dignified treatment for LGBTQ+ citizens and people engaged in paid sexual activities. This strategy has become increasingly important since riots have been growing in Bogotá in the last two months.
In conclusion, Bogotá is on the leading edge of women’s economic and political development and in the prevention and care for gender-based violence in Colombia. We hope that our policies contribute to a safer and more egalitarian future for women in Bogotá and that they inspire other local governments to invest in the wellbeing of women.
1 Physical spaces where care services are provided by multiple institutions within an 800- meters vicinity.
2 Spanish: Servicio Nacional de Aprendizaje/ National Learning Service