Lanarkshire Carers Centre’s International Women’s Group
Caring generally has a greater impact on women than men, both in terms of the prevalence of caring amongst women and in relation to the individual impact caring has on women’s lives.
In Scotland we have a breadth of research which reveals the extent to which caring is a gender issue:
- 59% of carers are women
- Women in caring roles, care for more hours than men, particularly when they live in areas of multiple deprivation.
- Women are twice as likely to give up paid work to care
- 74% of Carers Allowance claimants are women.
There are many reasons why this is the case. For example, there are often cultural and societal expectations on women to take on caring roles within families. Also, women are often in lower paid occupations and are therefore more likely to take on less paid employment in order to undertake unpaid labour, such as caring.
Despite national investment in childcare to encourage women to remain or return to employment, the same investment has not been made in replacement care to enable women with caring responsibilities to combine caring and employment. This has resulted in many female carers finding they are unable to combine paid work and caring.
We asked carers centres in Edinburgh, Dundee and the Borders how many female carers they supported in the last year, compared to male carers. They told us that 69% to 77% of carers accessing their services were women, indicating the greater impact caring has on women than on men and the greater need for support.
This impact can be compounded by additional factors. For example, many women are sandwich carers, caring for both young children and elderly parents.
In addition, caring is known to be very isolating, with the responsibilities of caring making it difficult for people to maintain relationships and personal interests. For carers in rural and island communities, their geographical remoteness adds to this isolation.
Finally, women from Black and Minority Ethnic Communities who are carers, often face very specific challenges that mean they require specialised support to assist them in their caring role. There are not many specialised services available across Scotland, but one example is Lanarkshire Carers Centre’s International Women’s Group, which is featured in this Spotlight contribution.
The International Women’s Group has been set up by Lanarkshire Carers Centre to support female carers from a minority ethnic background.
Members are provided with mutual support, access to services, information, training and social activities, with the aim of relieving isolation and building friendships.
As language can be a barrier for quite a few of the members, translation in Urdu/ Punjabi /English is available at all group meetings.
These carers experience cultural, linguistic and literacy issues. For most of them English is not their first language and they need support with translation and interpretation. They have almost no access to information related to their caring roles and the services available. They and their families are not aware of their rights as carers and at times they have to overcome challenges at home to access support.
The stigma attached within these communities in accessing outside help also can be a huge challenge. Geographical and cultural issues may be a hindrance to reach out to help.
Within most ethnic minority communities the caring responsibilities are expected to be provided by the women, which may mean giving up their life aspirations to conform to tradition.
It is also quite common that these women are not identified as carers by themselves and their families and the caring role is taken for granted.
It might be considered shameful and disloyal to discuss family issues and personal feelings. Their own health and wellbeing may easily be ignored by themselves and the people around them.
The International Women’s Group is a culturally sensitive group that recognises and understands the barriers these women face. Bilingual support is available at each meeting and transport is available for those who are unable to make their way to the group due to their cultural and geographical barriers.
Training opportunities and workshops are organised to help the women access opportunities to maintain their health and wellbeing and a safe and confidential setting is provided to share issues they are not able to discuss within their families.
Isolation is a major factor for most of these carers. The friendship and comradery within the group has been a source of emotional and practical support to all the members; being a part of the group they are able to make friendships, look after each other and enjoy short breaks away from their caring roles in a relaxed environment.
One particular carer who was going through a very difficult phase in life due to family conflict and mental health issues was provided with one to one and group support regularly to provide her with the strength she needed. Ultimately she felt strong enough to make life changing decisions to eliminate the negative forces from her life and to move on.
In another case, a friend of an elderly carer referred her for support as she was worried about her isolation. This carer lived in a rural part of Lanarkshire, could not speak English and was caring for her disabled adult son for years without any acknowledgement of her caring role by herself, family and community, other than being in receipt of Carers Allowance. Long term caring had impacted her physical health and she had little opportunities for taking short breaks away. She had no access to transport due to cultural, health, financial and geographical factors. Attending International Women’s Group was made possible for her by providing pick and drop transport facility where she was able to build friendships, help others, access information, training opportunities and social events.
As a society we need to recognise the impact that caring has on women and girls and the barriers that carers face in accessing support and combining caring and employment.
The Government needs to invest in carer services and replacement care to enable carers to retain and return to employment, in the same way they have invested in childcare. Because both childcare and unpaid family care still have a disproportionate impact on women, preventing them from being economically active and at times driving them into poverty.
Leaders and decision makers across all sectors also have to understand and address the specific barriers that particular groups of women, such as carers from BME communities face, in order to respond to their needs in a holistic manner and mitigate some of the impacts of their caring responsibilities.
Efforts must be sincere and not tokenistic with local policies and services reflecting the needs of all caring communities.