Who Cares? Bogotá's Path to Becoming a Caring City

Javier Pineda Duque

It took many years for feminist thought, since its second wave, to bring the issue of care to public policy in Latin American cities. Although the subject was approached from the early 1970s within other concepts, the last 15 years have been marked by its growing importance in regional academic production. The aim has been to highlight the importance of caring for sustaining life and democracy in society, to unveil its devaluation and the subordination of those who perform these jobs which are traditionally unpaid or poorly paid. Who cares? The question applies in both meanings: Who cares about this reality? Who assumes this effort of care? These questions are starting to be answered in the social innovation created by the city of Bogotá in the context of the pandemic. What makes the concept of care now considered as part of the public policy agenda? Why is Bogotá at the forefront on this issue?


Many ideas converge in the concept of care that are key to facing the great challenges of contemporary societies. For this reason, feminist thought has gained great acceptance and legitimacy in this century. Initially, care understood as domestic or reproductive work focused on the activities provided by women at home. Therefore, care was a mixture of love and work, that given its emotional implications, could only be provided within the family and, particularly, by women as an attribute that feminist criticism has revealed as a social and not natural assignment. However, after subsequent reformulations, the definition of care began to include its provision by other agents outside the family and incorporated discussions on social welfare regimes.

The importance of care came from its multidimensional and interdisciplinary nature that implied not only its recognition as work, but also its ethical, emotional, economic and political dimensions. This had to do with the confluence of at least five feminist schools of thought that I have called the “conceptual turn of care”. (1) This includes the ethics of care from psychology and political philosophy; studies on the sexual division of labor; Anglo-Saxon economics with its contributions to the care economy and gender biases in development theory and processes; emotional work and bodywork from sociology; and the contributions of the French school of thought to the psychodynamics of power at work.

Influenced by this conceptual development and a wealth of evidence, international agencies' commitments for Latin American states to move towards gender equality in the field of care were encouraged. With this came the adoption of the Quito Consensus by the Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, where states pledged “To adopt the necessary measures… to ensure that States assume social reproduction, caregiving and the well-being of the population as an objective for the economy and as a public responsibility that cannot be delegated”. (2) 

Progress of ongoing research in Latin America, which was reflected in various academic events, led to Joan Tronto, at the International Seminar “Gender and Care: theories, scenarios, and politics”, in Bogotá, to say: “In South America, the commitment to making care central to human life and political purpose has proceeded further than in any other place I know”. (3)

Uruguay was the pioneer nation in implementing public care policies, but this has been more the exception than the rule. In Colombia, after two unsuccessful attempts in previous years, the passage of Law 1413 in 2010 requires the State to collect statistics on unpaid domestic care work. Although the results of the time use survey were obtained since 2013, which are central to the design and implementation of policies, two administrations of national governments have passed without any policy decision in this regard. It is there when the local government of Bogotá takes the flag.

After two centuries of republican life, Bogotá elects a woman as mayor for the first time. This not only signifies a symbolic fracture in the patriarchal legacy, but also clearly brought to the public agenda the historical injustices that women have experienced. The support of many women’s organizations for her candidacy brought with it the voices for redistribution, reduction and recognition, the three “Rs” that synthesized the fight for care equity. While gender equity policies had settled in Bogotá since 2004, they moved on some fronts, but not on the care agenda.

A creative team from the Secretariat for Women in Bogotá, created in 2013, designed an innovative policy based on the three Rs, with an urban and social vision that has no previous records in the Latin American context. The “care city blocks” (las manzanas del cuidado) constitute a project of human geography, to respond to time poverty and the demands of care of thousands of women in the city. The novelty of these service units is that they bring together in the same space an offer of opportunities that were previously dispersed for caregivers and also include new services, among them, encouragement for men to participate more actively in care.

Joan Tronto proposes moving towards caring democracies seeking that those who are relatively powerless in a society can have a voice in public affairs. She stated: “The basic idea of Caring Democracy is to redefine this political system: democratic politics should center upon assigning responsibilities for care, and for ensuring that democratic citizens are as capable as possible of participating in this assignment of responsibilities”. (4)

The discourses of care are many and in the name of care, the worst crimes have also been committed. For example, the many victims of homicidal violence by State agents, within the framework of the national strike that began in Colombia from April 28 to the present, have been carried out under a discourse that includes the “care of citizenship”. The District System of Care, built around the “block” care program, faces different challenges. The greatest of these is perhaps moving towards a caring democracy, that is, where the State can organize itself to take care of citizens so that they can in turn promote democracy in their care practices.

Pineda J. (2021) Care Work: Professionalization and Valuation of Nurses and Nursing Assistants in Health and Old Age in Colombia, pp. 203-215. In Hirata, H., & Guimarães, N. A. (Eds.) Care and Care Workers. A Latin American Perspective. Springer. 
2 Cepal (2007). Quito Consensus. Quito: United Nations, p. 8.
3 Tronto, J. (2018). Economía, ética y democracia: Tres lenguajes en torno al cuidado. In L. G. Arango-Gaviria, A. Amaya-Urquijo, T. Pérez-Bustos, & J. Pineda-Duque (Eds.), Género y Cuidado. Teorías, escenarios y políticas (pp. 22–36). Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Universidad de los Andes, p. 24.
4 Tronto, J. (2013). Caring democracy: Markets, Equality and Justice. New York: New York University Press, p. 7.

Javier Pineda Duque
Associate professor at the Interdisciplinary Center for Development Studies - Cider, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia


Javier A. Pineda D. is an associate professor at the Interdisciplinary Center for Development Studies - Cider, Universidad de los Andes, Colombia. Doctor from the University of Durham, UK. Senior researcher in the Ministry of Science and member of the research group in Interdisciplinary Studies on Development. He is currently the coordinator of the group on Gender and care in Clacso. He has recently published on gender, care, and female empowerment.