Gender and Elder Care

Director, NPO Support House NENRIN
【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the 11th issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

"Baumkuchen," the precursor of Support House NENRIN, was formed by participants of a course hosted by the community center in former Tanashi city in 1978. Through this one-year course, I learned that women's education and social norms were determined by the needs of the business world. While all of the course participants were full-time housewives, we began to realize the vulnerability of our positions, and so began to create our own worlds. Then in 1985, having acquired a day service job at a local elder care centre, I was to learn the social situation in which care work is placed.

I was made to understand that women who work as housekeepers or matrons at a senior citizens' home did so "for a reason." I was aware that, in comparison to my previous work in the field of publishing, care work involved a greater workload with insufficient pay and low social status. One woman from my child's PTA, said to me that it was so "impressive!" when I told her of my career change. It was a word that I had never encountered during my career in publishing. The hidden implication behind her words is: "I would never do such a job."
This became more real when I left the daycare center and became a home helper. In 1992, the term "home helper" itself was still rare, and we were treated like housekeepers or maids. Some users would scold me saying the wife of a "salaryman" should not be doing such work and some would even tell me that I shouldn't be "going round cleaning other people's poo."
It was such experiences that led me to take up the goal of improving and protecting the social status of the home helper, with the founding of Support House NENRIN in 1994. In those days, women-centered groups were being created one after the other as we were unable to ignore the situation in front of our eyes. Women expanded these activities voluntarily, realizing that elder care was a women's issue, and connecting it with their own impending old age.
However, once the long-term care insurance system was adopted, care became an industry and companies with capital began to emerge. Then a structure consisting of men as executives and women in the field became apparent throughout the country. 80% of the users and 80% of the workers in the elder care industry are women, but what percentage of government officials and Diet members responsible for creating the system is female? Housework, child-rearing and elder care is a woman's job; the wages make good pocket money for them. Maybe they don't actually think like this, but the low unit price of the elder care benefit belies this. Is it because elder care itself is seen as women's work, and the lowest form of work there is at that? In order to create a society in which we can spend our final days in comfort, it is vital to promote education and gender equality from a young age, and to have the ability to see the women's issues involved in care.