Isabel Contrucci: “What we get out of this crisis will set the foundations for putting care at the centre”

Photo of Isabel Contrucci
In this column published by El Mostrador, MICARE Executive Director Isabel Contrucci discusses the importance of making care in Chile visible, recognizing it, and redistributing it.

By Isabel Contrucci. Read the column published by El Mostrador here.

“Take care of yourself” must be the most oft-repeated words we hear and say to our loved ones, time and time again. And during the pandemic they have been even more present.

The truth is that, although the latest figures seem to give us some respite, the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Nor will we overcome the profound social crisis or the economic needs of thousands and millions of people living in our country overnight. Specialists in all areas have told us again and again that “we will have to learn to live in a different way”, and that the life to which we had become accustomed will likely never return.

In this context, human beings have learned to relate to each other differently.

COVID-19 has limited our freedoms and has immobilized us in many ways. But it has also allowed us to see more clearly than ever the importance of certain fundamental roles and activities without which society cannot advance. The importance of having a caregiving and support network that we can rely on has become very clear to us. A network that mobilizes us instead of immobilizing us. That is the role of care.

‘The pandemic has jeopardized the care network that we relied upon, in one way or another, until now. Most of the time, this is an informal network based on family, friends, neighbors, communities and, to a lesser extent, institutional ties‘.

Isabel Contrucci, MICARE executive director.

In addition to the closure of nurseries, preschools, schools, or daycare centres for the elderly, physical distance and community and regional quarantines have prevented many people from accessing their support network, especially those who perform informal care work.

And, with care being a role that has been historically undertaken by women, it is no exaggeration to say that the pandemic has taken too much of a toll on us. Working outside the home has often become impossible, increasing unemployment and poverty, and leading to a sad record of women leaving the labour market to devote themselves to care work.

Teleworking has also been greatly hindered by the failure to ensure formal caregiving networks that would allow the reconciliation of formal and informal and domestic work.

‘The mental and physical load and fatigue of thousands of women has multiplied, reaching levels that surpass any desirable situation. The debt, once again, is female‘.

Isabel Contrucci, MICARE executive director.

But the overload that many of us have intensively experienced in this pandemic is, in reality, a constant—beyond the pandemic—in thousands of households where one or more of its members require constant accompaniment and/or care, as is the case with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and dependent older people.

Thus, the health crisis has made the invisible visible: all people need or will need a caregiving network in order to fully develop in our lives.

So the question that then arises is: Do we really have a Caring State? The state response to the needs of caregivers and cared-for persons, which was already poor before the crisis, has become blatantly inadequate. No, we have not had and do not have a Caring State, and we urgently need to build one. 

We have seen not only a delayed response, but one focused on economic indicators, subsidies, or guaranteed incomes that continue to ignore the real cost of living in Chile and, moreover, the much higher cost of living for households with permanent care needs.

This is why it is urgent for the country to begin a profound debate on recognizing domestic work as paid work, co-responsibility between women and men in these tasks, and acknowledging care as a fundamental activity that must be strengthened and protected.

As we make progress in raising visibility, support, and recognition, we must also ensure access to services, identification processes, diagnoses, therapies, and support that we currently lack, and that have become a debt that is growing by leaps and bounds.

‘We must learn from the storm even before it’s over. What we learn from this crisis will lay the foundations on which we will build a new social pact that puts caregiving at the center, as a structuring axis of family, social, and economic life in Chile’.

Isabel Contrucci, MICARE executive director.

MICARE was created because we know the needs of thousands of people and households that depend on this care network and because we have the tools to assess their needs and design, together, the necessary support. A Millennium Institute focused on research and proposals regarding the improvements this country needs to strengthen this care network.

MICARE is committed to this challenge, and we will support all actions that contribute to progress along this path. Let us learn from this storm before it is too late so that we can accompany all those who make caregiving a constant in their lives.