Care ethics is a branch of moral philosophy popularized in the 1980s by philosopher Carol Gilligan. Gilligan was one of the first contemporary philosophers to take into account gendered differences in moral decision making. This is why care ethics are sometimes known as feminist ethics or even gender ethics. Gilligan argued that most mainstream moral philosophy came from a European male lens. Instead of focusing so much on moral imperatives and outcomes, care ethics emphasize the importance of relationships and emotion when it comes to ethical dilemmas. Gilligan says that this ethical framework is "an ethic grounded in voice and relationships, in the importance of everyone having a voice, being listened to carefully (in their own right and on their own terms) and heard with respect" (source: "Interview with Carol Gilligan"). Previous moral theories tried to claim that moral reasoning was a deductive, logical process that would lead to the same conclusion in essentially every situation. Care ethics, however, are more contextual, meaning that the right course of action depends largely on the needs, capabilities, and relationships of the people who will be affected by the decision.
In contrast, Laurence Kohlberg was a moral theorist who popularized the concept of stages of moral development. According to his theory, peoples' capacity for and motivations behind moral reasoning change as they get older. For example, consider the moral question of stealing. A child, who is in what Kohlberg refers to as the "pre-conventional stage" of moral development, will probably not steal his younger sister's cookie not because he intrinsically knows that stealing is wrong, but because he knows he will be punished if he gets caught. An older adult, however, who has ideally reached the post-conventional stage, knows not to steal an old woman's purse because he respect's the woman's right to her own property. In criticizing Kohlberg's approach, Gilligan noted that all the people used in Kohlberg's studies prior to the development of his theory were male. Therefore, Kohlberg could not make any universal claims about moral reasoning because men and women don't necessarily reason the same way. Furthermore, Kohlberg's theory essentially says that children's moral reasoning is always faulty because they act from a place of self-preservation rather than principle. Gilligan, on the other hand, believed that the needs and feelings of all parties involved in an issue should be taken into consideration, which presumably includes children.
Gilligan's framework of ethics relates mostly to the concept of restorative justice. Restorative justice is the idea that the consequences of a harmful act should focus on repairing the harm done to relationships or the community rather than imposing a harsh punishment on the offender. This approach takes into account the humanity of the offender and acknowledges that he/she may not have acted out of sheer malice, but because of some unmet social, emotional, or economic need. An example of restorative justice is a "restoration circle" where a mediator facilitates a discussion between the offender, the offended, and potentially other members of the community. A restoration circle reflects Gilligan's care ethic because everyone's voice is respected and everyone's needs are taken into consideration when arriving at an appropriate solution.