It was outlined in my previous article that the role of caring disproportionately burdens women. Our research at Carers Worldwide found that women are caregivers in 84% of cases, with this figure rising as high as 93% in situations of caring for children with disabilities.
In order to reduce the burden of caregiving on women, there is a need for society as a whole to find ways to de-feminize the role of caregiving. Campaigns and policies at a government level need to be introduced that remove the stigma surrounding males providing care, and make it economically viable for males to assume caregiving roles. However, it is not just a shift in societal attitudes that could reduce the burden of caregiving on women. There are several, simple actions that you as an individual could take right now to support the women caregivers that you know:
Offer a listening ear: Caregivers are known for dutifully performing the role of caring, often without showing any signs that they have worries or problems in connection with their caregiving role. In reality, there are many caregivers, who are experiencing anxiety/stress and could benefit from having someone to confide in. The caregiver will not expect you to solve their problems, they will just be grateful to have someone they can unload on. Next time you are with the caregiver, strike up a conversation to find out how they really are and if there is anything worrying them about their caregiving role.
Give them a break: Share caregiving responsibilities when possible. Numerous caregivers spend all day, everyday caring and have little or no respite for themselves. Caregivers who have no time for themselves run the risk of burning out. Are you in a position where you could step into the role of caregiver for a few hours in a week, to give the primary caregiver a much needed break? Or can you encourage other family members to discuss ways in which the responsibility of caring could be more evenly divided?
Be aware of their health needs: Caregivers can suffer from mental and physical health problems which may or may not be related to their caregiving duties. It is common for caregivers who choose to focus solely on the wellbeing of the person they are caring for, to ignore any personal health concerns they have. You can enquire about the mental and physical wellbeing of a caregiver and encourage them to seek professional medical advice if it appears they may require it. If the health of the caregiver deteriorates, then this could also impact the wellbeing of the person whom they care for.
Ensure caregivers continue to be included in family and social activitiesso they do not feel isolated. There are several actions that can be taken to ensure the caregiver can still participate in family and social events. One example is for family gatherings to be held in a location that is suitable for both the caregiver and the person they care for to attend. Would it be possible to hold planned gatherings in the home of the caregiver so they can participate? Alternatively, next time there is a social event, could another family member provide care and give the primary caregiver the opportunity to attend the event by themselves?
Adopting any of the suggestions outlined above could make a positive difference to the life of a carer you know and help to reduce the disproportionate burden of caring faced by women. I encourage you to try out whichever suggestions you can.
Dr Anil Patil is the founder and executive director of Carers Worldwide. Carers Worldwide highlights and tackles issues faced by unpaid family caregivers. Established in 2012 and registered in the UK, it works exclusively with caregivers in developing countries. Dr Patil co-authors this column with Ruth Patil, who volunteers with Carers Worldwide.For more information you can log on to Carers Worldwide.You can write to the authors at email@example.com