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Caring Cities: Bogotá

CHANGE and the City of Bogotá led a research effort to learn directly from the leaders of community care initiatives about what motivates their work in communities, their goals for the future, and what type of relationship they want to have with the government.

This is part of the Caring Cities research conducted in three CHANGE cities.

The City of Bogotá is a global leader on urban care policy, designing and launching the first city-level comprehensive Care System in Latin America. Policy makers in Bogotá believe that investments in care are critical to advancing gender equity, a thriving economy, robust civic engagement, and community wellbeing. The municipality approaches care as a co-responsibility shared between the government, private sector, families, and communities. Under the leadership of Mayor Claudia Lopez, Bogotá has worked to more equitably redistribute caregiving tasks – between men and women in the home, and between sectors in society.

The Care System

In Colombia’s capital unpaid care tasks disproportionately fall to women. Moreover, most full-time caregivers are low income women whose unpaid care work results in monetary and “time poverty” – meaning that the time and energy required to do care work inhibits their ability to pursue professional development, political participation, and self-care. The situation is even more challenging for caregivers in rural areas, who often lack basic utilities, and migrants, who lack social networks to redistribute care or access to stable government services.

  • 90%

    of women in the City of Bogotá provide unpaid care work to others.

  • That means that, amongst the 4 million women living in the city of Bogotá, 3.6 million provide unpaid care work to others.

  • 1.2 million women in Bogotá are full-time caregivers, devoting an average of 10 hours per day to care-related tasks.

To address this inequality, Mayor Lopez launched the District Care System in 2020 with the goal of recognizing, redistributing, and reducing the provision of unpaid care in the city. Under the slogan “we care for those who care for us“, the District Care System of the city of Bogotá introduces a new urban planning framework known as the Care Blocks. The Care Blocks concentrate essential care services within a 15 – 20 minute walking radius of their homes, with the purpose of supporting both those who provide care and those who need it. These services include educational, recreational, psychological, and income-generation support for caregivers along with child care, elder care, and care for people with disabilities in order to provide a break for primary caregivers.

Women caregivers are invited to use services provided by the Care Blocks to invest time in their own education, pursue income generating opportunities, and participate in wellness activities. Through a pedagogical and cultural change strategy provided by the District Care System, men and boys are also able to participate in classes known as the “Care School for Men” that teach them how to cook, clean, and care for their children with the goal of having them contribute to household demands.

Through unprecedented investments in the District Care System, the City of Bogotá is recognizing the unpaid labor of women caregivers as central to the City’s policies and strengthening the State’s role in the co-responsibility of care. As of September 2023, twenty Care Blocks facilities have been opened across the city, which have provided more than 2 million services and benefited more than 400,000 women and families. According to Bogotá’s Urban Master Plan 2022–2035, there should be 45 Care Blocks by the end of 2035.

Community Care Diagnostic

As part of its investments in the co-responsibility of care, the City of Bogotá has committed to better understanding the gender dynamics of each responsible actor within the “care diamond” – including the details of caregiving with households, the private sector, and communities. However, information has been less available on the provision of care within communities.

Community care is defined as individuals and groups that provide caregiving outside of the household without a profit motive, either through grassroots networks or civic and nonprofit organizations.

To address this information gap, the Secretariat for Women’s Affairs conducted an extensive qualitative research effort to explore how communities and civic groups have organized themselves to provide care services in diverse districts. The research called, “What about Community Care? Diagnostic of unpaid care work at the community level in Bogotá“, mapped 240 care initiatives, and confirmed that women make up the majority of care initiatives. The diagnostic also found some of the following :

  • There are three main types of community care initiatives: i) individual caregivers who provide care outside the home; ii) informal collectives; iii) formal civic or religious nonprofits.

  • Most caregivers are driven by non-monetary motivations rooted in religious or humanitarian service, the desire to address community needs, or frameworks of solidarity and mutual aid within the community.
  • Community care initiatives have the potential to reproduce, questions, or transform gender beliefs and stereotypes regarding the role of women as caregivers.

  • When mapping the networks that support community care work, the State was the actor with both the greatest positive recognition and the most negative.

Community Care Initiatives in Usme & Usaquén

With CHANGE, Bogotá’s Secretariat for Women’s Affairs designed a short-term research effort to reconnect with a small sample of community care initiatives. Building on previous work, the goal of this research was to collect additional qualitative data with a targeted focus on how community care initiatives perceived the State and the potential for collaboration.

The Caring Cities Program seeks to amplify the unique perspective of caregivers. CHANGE and the City of Bogotá engaged the leaders of community care initiatives in Usaquén and Usme to better understand what motivates their work in communities, their goals for the future, and their existing and desired relationship with the State. Using a system of qualitative data coding and analysis the research put forward four main findings:

Community care initiatives are deeply embedded within local contexts, collaborating and building trust with residents over time.

The leaders of community care initiatives engaged through the Caring Cities research discussed their commitment to building intentional relationships with local community members. Many also have strong familial, professional, and social ties to their neighborhoods.

A community caregiver discussed how she felt a sense of pride and belonging in her neighborhood because her parents were involved in its original formation. Another leader shared how her community care work has been inspired by her family’s economic hardships.

Even community care leaders who did not have intergenerational ties to the areas where they work shared a deep commitment to engaging with residents and building trusting relationships.

Community care initiatives are adaptive and evolve over time to respond to complex, interconnected community needs.

Many community care initiatives have developed through an emergent process of local leaders and community members coming together to address needs in their neighborhoods, often due to the absence of State presence in a district of the lack of State action on certain issues.

The research uncovered different examples of how community care initiatives have evolved over time to address interconnected local challenges. For example, in Usme, many initiatives originated in the 1980s when the Catholic Church started to invest in the district. Over the years, community care work in the district took many forms – free meals, child care, education for mothers, employment opportunities, construction and care of orchards, and housing development. In another example from Usaquén, a leader of a community care initiative explained that they started providing arts education for youth fifteen years ago and their focus expanded “organically” as they worked in the community.

There are differing opinions on the appropriate role of the State in addressing care and supporting community care initiatives.

In line with the 2022 community care diagnostic, there was no consensus amongst the caregivers engaged on the appropriate role of the State as a partner and provider of care services. During the research, the majority of initiatives expressed mistrust of the State. For one, this was expressed simply as a feeling that the State was disconnected from the everyday needs of the community. For another, the resistance to the State was based on political ideologies, a desire for community autonomy, and the belief that the State did not share their vision for social transformation.

Others, especially those in rural areas, felt like their communities had been fully ignored by the State. They believed that this absence of the State had resulted in serious negative consequences for community members, especially women.

When discussing potential partnerships, many viewed the State as a provider of financial resources. For some, funding was the extent of the desired partnership. Others wanted the State to provide improved basic services in their areas. Overall, the community care initiatives expressed a desire for continued autonomy and the desire to grow their work in communities, with none suggesting that the State replace their efforts.

Community care initiatives have feedback for the State on opportunities for improved collaboration.

Many leaders of community care initiatives had specific feedback on how collaboration with the State can be improved. Some requested more proactive engagement from the State in building relationships and tackling problems collaboratively with local leaders. Other initiatives, especially those working at the intersection of caring for people and the environment, discussed the challenges of coordinating with numerous different government agencies. There were also calls for more continuity within State processes, with many community care initiatives sharing that frequent staff turnover has led to incomplete projects, unfulfilled promises, and a lot of wasted time for community care initiatives. For many leaders who participated in the research, there was a desire to see the State better recognize and compensate the work of community caregivers.

In sum, the Caring City research highlights the ways in which community care initiatives are embedded in communities, evolving over time to respond to specific local needs. Download the Bogotá chapter of the Caring Cities report to read the full research findings and caregiver quotes, and learn more about care in Bogotá.

The research featured in this report is part of the City Hub and Network for Gender Equity (CHANGE) Caring Cities program. CHANGE has partnered with three cities in its global network – Bogotá, Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles – to implement community-based research efforts that invite caregivers to shape local services and policies.

CHANGE believes that care is critical to gender equity and is partnering with cities to celebrate, learn from, and invest in caregivers.

Read the full report here.

City: Bogotá

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