By Ruth Brook
”The combined wealth of the world’s 22 richest men is more than the wealth of all the women in Africa.” This was one of many unsettling realities revealed in Oxfam’s annual global inequality report, released Monday.
The 2020 report titled “Time to Care – Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis” communicated the current global economic imbalances and the reasons behind them. Oxfam released “Time to Care” on January 20th, 2020 ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
As the title suggests, the report addressed the burgeoning gap between the worlds rich and poor, stating that in the shadows of economic inequality exists gender inequality – one of the main causes for the great divide. The charity coined the dire situation “a tale of two extremes.”
Also contributing to the aforementioned gap is an economic system which overlooks an essential work sector – domestic and care work done by girls and women around the world, who make up some of the world’s most exploited workers.
Care work is not limited to daily domestic work; it encompasses looking after children, elderly people and those with physical and mental illnesses and disabilities. The predominately female sector is severely under looked; women in rural communities and low- income countries spend up to 14 hours a day on unpaid care work, five times more than males in the same communities.
Furthermore, approximately 50 percent of domestic workers lack minimum wage protection and more than 50 percent have no legal limits on their working hours.
Existing efforts which tackle inequality and the mistreatment of care workers were also mentioned in the report. Lebanon-based, Ethiopian organization Egna Legna was one such example. Egna Legna is an Ethiopian union of domestic workers and activists calling for an end to the unjust Kafala system that exists in the Middle East, a system which enables employers’ abuse of domestic workers.
An analysis of the global economic pyramid shows titanic wealth held in the hands of an iota of the world’s population. In 2019, the world’s billionaires, only 2,153 people, had more wealth than 4.6 billion people; the majority of the privileged cohort is made up of men.
“The world’s richest 1% have more than twice as much wealth as 6.9 billion people.”
Meanwhile, half of the world’s population lives on less than $5.50 a day. The contrast between the extreme poverty at the bottom of the pyramid and the trillions of dollars at the top has called for an abolishment of billionaires, as the number of billionaires has doubled in the last decade.
“Getting the richest one percent to pay just 0.5 percent extra tax on their wealth over the next 10 years would equal the investment needed to create 117 million jobs in sectors such as elderly and childcare, education and health,” said Oxfam India CEO, Amitabh Behar, in a press release regarding the release of the report.
The 63 page report concluded on a hopeful note, stating that a fairer world is possible, provided government commitment and cooperation. The primary solutions to the current grave situation are to eradicate the sexist economic system in place and to do away with the increasing number of billionaires. These solutions were supplemented by Oxfam’s suggested six courses of action.
The first is to invest in “national care systems” which will work to resolve the uneven responsibility for care work done by women and girls. The second course of action suggests that in order to eradicate extreme poverty, extreme wealth must be tackled first; it is up to the government to close the divide by fairly taxing wealth and high incomes.
Next is having the government involve unpaid care-workers in policy making. The penultimate suggestion is to challenge norms that see care work as the responsibility of women and girls. Lastly, the report stated that businesses should see the value of care work and prioritize the well-being of workers.
“Governments created the inequality crisis —they must act now to end it,” said Behar.
By Ruth Brook