Making care visible will support women’s rights

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - 17:28

A great deal of time is spent on Unpaid Care Work by women around the world every day, but often this important work remains invisible.

In fact, Unpaid Care Work is a term that you might not be familiar with – it includes all those activities that go into maintaining a household and caring for others in your own home. Chores such as cooking, cleaning, collecting water and firewood in rural areas, taking care of the ill and elderly, and participating in community work.

Today we’ve launched a new report called Making Care Visible. Over an 18 month period, we worked with women from 10rural and urban communities in Nepal, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda to track their unpaid care work.

This research produced some interesting results – here are just a few snippets:

  • In a survey of rural and urban households in Uganda we found that women spend over three hours a day caring for children, while men on average spend 27 minutes
  • In rural Nepal, men spend only 56 minutes on housework while women spend 4.5 hours on chores such as cooking and cleaning
  • Women in Kenya spend 48 minutes a day caring for adults, including the ill and elderly, while men spend 16 minutes
  • Despite living in the Nigerian capital Abuja, women spend more than an hour per day collecting water due to poor infrastructure

As you’ll see by flicking through this infographic, across all four countries women spend more time on unpaid paid care work than men. But this isn’t just limited to these countries, national time use surveys from India, Argentina, and South Korea show that this trend is reflected across the world. Regardless of the wealth of a country or the wealth of a household, women and girls generally do more unpaid care work than men.

As one woman in Nepal said: this is the type of work where we do not earn money but do not have free time either. Our work is not seen but we are not free as well.

Why is this important?

In wealthier households women can hire domestic workers to help with this work and often have access to electricity and household appliances that make it less dreary and time-consuming. But for women living in poverty, the situation is very different.

Like many women around the world, those living in poverty are juggling their unpaid care work at home with their other paid or unpaid work, such as farming the family plot. But when living in poverty, women have less access to electricity and basic amenities such as water and sanitation, making their tasks much harder. 

They also have less access to public services such as primarily healthcare clinics, crèches and schools, leaving women with little choice but to provide this care themselves or shift it to other women and girls at home. 

People living in poverty who require care due to disability, illness or old age, may also not receive quality care due to a lack of resources and time of other household members.

Women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work means their ability to choose to continue their education, get a job, find time to participate in community meetings, access a health clinic or just have time to rest is immediately constrained.

Across all four countries included in the unpaid care work programme men are more likely to engage in paid work than women – spending up to 3.5 hours per day while women spend less than 1.5 hours.

We cannot address gender inequality without considering women’s unpaid care work and the impact that this has on their right to education, decent work and leisure.

For too long care has been ignored by national governments and international policy makers despite research by feminist economists showing the constraints that it places specifically on women’s choices.

We all agree that care is fundamental to sustaining any society. It is the work that puts breakfast on the table, that cleans a home and that provides the care and attention required to nurse someone back to health or help them to die in dignity. Care is not only a women’s rights issue – the quality of care provided in any society affects us all either because we require care or are the ones providing the care. Yet it is perceived to be less valuable than paid work and it is not reflected in national statistics or economic analyses. 

Governments do not think enough about financing public services such as water and sanitation, crèches and healthcare clinics to support households to provide care. 

These could be paid for through taxes but the public services that women need most are often not prioritised and are the first to be cut in an economic crisis. 

Governments rely on women’s labour to fill the gap in public services but this comes at the cost of women’s equality and rights.  

With our partners, we’re calling for unpaid care work to be made a collective responsibility so that it doesn’t fall on women’s and girls’ shoulders alone, depriving them of their choices and rights.