International Women’s Day: The incredible role of women in care

Written by Zenya Smith25/02/22


We’re looking at some of the contributions women are making to care, as well as the women who have redefined what it means to support to others.

In the UK, women are more likely to do unpaid care work compared to men.

People provide unpaid care for a number of reasons – it could be because a loved one won’t accept the help of someone they don’t know, or because the local health and social care system is unable to provide the right level of support. However, one thing is for certain, the vast majority of the people providing care are women.

Carers UK estimate there are 3.34 million women in the UK who are classed as unpaid carers – supporting their mum, dad, brother, sister, or another loved one. One in four women aged 50-64 will take time off work to care for an older or disabled loved one.

Care spotlight – Mary Seacole

The pioneer of convalescent care

Mary Seacole was born to a Jamaican mother and Scottish father in 1805, and is widely considered to be the world’s first nurse practitioner. Growing up in the Caribbean she studied herbal medicines, and travelled to Britain to offer her services at the start of the Crimean war.

At the war office she was met with prejudice due to her gender and heritage, and was told she wasn’t needed. Undefeated, Mary travelled to Balaklava herself, and set up her own refuge for injured and sick soldiers called the ‘British Hotel’.

She was also known to go to the battlefield – risking her life to tend to the wounded.

After the war she returned home to nothing. To show their gratitude for her bravery and compassion, service men organised a money-raising gala for Mary in London, attended by over 80,000 people, including royalty.

Women and girls are putting in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work every day.

Informal care can be anything from helping someone get up and about to making sure they’ve taken their medication. Each day the role of women in unpaid care is truly staggering. Hundreds of millions of people rely on their dedication and love to live a good quality of life.


According to the NHS, female carers are more likely to be providing ‘round the clock’ care too.

A survey by the NHS found that 60% of female carers were providing over 50 hours of care a week.


A massive 80% of all social care jobs are performed by women

When it comes to carer roles, The King’s Fund estimates that up to 95% of those in non-medical direct care and support providing jobs are women, These are jobs that keep people safe and allow them to make the most of their life.

Care spotlight – Frances Davidson

Providing peace and protecting dignity

Originally from Aberdeenshire, little is known about Frances Davidson’s early life. However, in 1885 she set up the UK’s first ‘end of life’ home, so that terminally ill people had somewhere safe and peaceful to stay.

It’s believed Frances had the idea while working for the Mildmay Mission Hospital in London, caring for people with terminal tuberculosis. The ‘home of peace’ as it was often referred to, was opened at 133 Mildmay Road, Islington with just eight beds. However, by 1892 Frances was able to move the home to South Hampstead with enough space for 35 patients.

Care at the home was free, and Frances gave preference to those who would otherwise have ended up in workhouse hospitals– which were usually small, badly ventilated, and a hotbed for disease.

Let’s celebrate the role of women in care

Around the world, women are the glue that holds the social care system together. COVID-19 has highlighted the vital importance of their work and the super-human nature of their commitment.

So, let’s take the day to celebrate this unbelievable contribution, reflect on the inequalities that exist and start a conversation about how to address them.

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