Over the past few weeks, various teams from CELS, in collaboration with other organizations, have shared information and submitted our contributions to the Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on the right to care. This includes community care, mental health, fiscal policy, and the situation of individuals deprived of liberty. In this collaboration, we aim to provide the Court with information to develop a precise diagnosis of the care provided by communities in Latin America and the Caribbean. This process began after the Argentine state requested the Court express its views on the content and scope of care as a human right and its connection to other rights.
Our contribution on fiscal policy and care
The importance of unpaid domestic and care work for economies is not adequately considered or recognized in the design of fiscal policies. These tasks act as buffers during economic shocks and compensate when austerity measures are implemented. Women’s well-being is more dependent on public spending than men’s, and understanding this allows us to assess the gender-differentiated impacts of adjustment policies.
Recognizing and valuing domestic and community work and its role in the economic and social structure is essential for building more equal, inclusive, and sustainable economies and societies. Furthermore, investing in a care system is a priority for addressing poverty and overcoming various structural challenges, such as existing gender gaps.
Community care, a social responsibility
In Latin America, community spaces play a leading role as providers of care at the local level. They take shape in community kitchens, soup kitchens, childcare centers, medical clinics, and clothing donation centers, among others. This role often arises from grassroots, religious, or neighborhood initiatives that organize in response to needs such as food, physical care, education, support in cases of gender-based violence, problematic substance use, but also encompass broader perspectives such as environmental care or food production.
Social inequalities are reflected and reproduced in caregiving settings: in lower-income households, access to care services is much more limited. Simultaneously, it is community care that ensures social continuity and the sustainability of community life in contexts of poverty, precarious housing, and informal labor. Women living in poverty, girls, adolescents, young and elderly women, indigenous and Afro-descendant women, rural women, women with disabilities, those deprived of liberty, living with HIV, migrants and refugees, as well as LGBTI+ individuals, shoulder most of the burden in these collective care efforts, in much the same way as they do in the family setting.
Community care should be considered a social responsibility rather than a solely familial one. This would position states as guarantors of these rights. Community care is a vehicle for the right to a dignified life and also the exercise of other economic, social, cultural, and environmental rights. It constitutes labor that should be compensated and acknowledged with all associated labor rights, including legal protection. For this reason, state recognition should translate into its inclusion in the design of comprehensive care policies.
Care and mental health
Over the past few decades, global disability activism and the promotion of the independent living model have led to a reconsideration and expansion of the traditional care agenda, with a focus on the provision and organization of care, taking the perspective of support into account.
Support and care systems are a necessary condition for people with disabilities to live independently and participate in society with equal opportunities to those of others. To achieve this requires the transformation of support and care services, ensuring they respect the rights of people with disabilities.
States must fulfill their international obligation to design strategies and plans for deinstitutionalization, gradually reallocating budgetary resources from care institutions to community support networks.
Gender stereotypes and a lack of adherence to care standards have a negative effect in that they deny or restrict the right to care. Moreover, traditional care models disproportionately impact women with disabilities twice over: as caregivers and as recipients of care.
Persons deprived of liberty
Prison poses a barrier for women to fulfill caregiving responsibilities for others, while simultaneously impeding the right to self-care. Penitentiary systems are structured to exclude certain social groups, lacking access to basic services, operating with high rates of overcrowding, and perpetuating the paradigms of care extractivism inside prisons. Furthermore, they fail to address the caregiving needs of individuals dependent on women deprived of liberty.
The negative impacts on caregiving persist even after regaining freedom. Due to the stigma associated with having come into conflict with the law and the absence of public policies on social reintegration, women who have been released from prison or are serving alternative measures face barriers to securing employment under dignified conditions and meeting their own and their families’ needs. They are held to higher moral standards compared to men who have been through the penal system, and are penalized for deviating from conventional gender roles, often deemed ‘bad mothers.’
Women involved with the prison system find themselves in a vulnerable position regarding the right to care. Prisons fail to provide measures for exercising responsibilities of social continuity towards others and for themselves.