Burden of unpaid care work heavy on women, says study

A woman washing clothes in Nairobi's Kibra slums. A study shows that unequal distribution of unpaid care and domestic work between women and men limits women’s opportunities for economic empowerment.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  •  Study by Oxfam Kenya found that a heavy and unequal responsibility of unpaid care and domestic work is borne by women and girls.
  • Objective of the survey was to understand how unpaid care and domestic work impacts men and women, boys and girls at the household level.
  • It targeted five informal settlements of Kibera, Mathare, Mukuru, Kawangware and Korogocho in Nairobi County.
  • Another survey by KNBS on socio economic impact of Covid-19 on households found glaring disparities between women and men regarding  unpaid care and domestic work in homes.

A study by Oxfam Kenya found that a heavy and unequal responsibility of unpaid care and domestic work is borne by women and girls. 

Oxfam commissioned the Household Care Survey (HCS) between October 2018 and March 2019 through its Women’s Rights Programme.

The objective of the survey was to understand how unpaid care and domestic work (UCDW) impacts men and women, boys and girls at the household level.

It targeted five informal settlements of Kibera, Mathare, Mukuru, Kawangware and Korogocho in Nairobi County and found that women spend 11.1 hours per day on care work compared to men's 2.9 hours per day.

“Unequal distribution of unpaid care and domestic work between women and men, boys and girls further limits women’s opportunities for economic empowerment and political participation. Reduction of unpaid care and domestic work for women would enable them to engage in productive activities linked to improvements in their livelihoods,” the Oxfam survey report says in part.

Covid-19

The findings  were  recently validated by Kenyan National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

The KNBS survey on socio economic impact of Covid-19 on households found glaring disparities between women and men regarding  unpaid care and domestic work in homes.

For cleaning and maintaining their own dwellings, women accounted for 64.5 per cent compared to men at 45.3 per cent. On the caring and instructing children aged 6-17 years women command 52.7 per cent compared to men’s 39.2 per cent.

Women again lead on food and meals management and preparation at 44.2 per cent compared to men at  24.2 per cent.8

Family members

Things are no different when it comes to caring and instructing children aged 0-5 years with women accounting for 40.5 per cent to men’s 32 per cent.

On caring for dependent adults aged 18-59 years, women are at 34.7 against men’s 30.5 per cent. Shopping for own household and family members saw women lead at 18 per cent with men being put at 16 per cent.

Women too, spent the most time caring for dependent adults aged 60 years and older at 11.7 per cent while men spent 10.1 per

Gender lense

Eva Komba, a gender and development expert says as long as unpaid care work remains unquantified, unrecognised and unpaid, it will continue to be gender insensitive.

She observes that to effectively implement the principle of equity, a gender lens must be used in arriving at decisions.

“Nationally, the struggle has been around quantifying and attaching value to care work that is largely contributed by women, and it’s the high time this is sorted out otherwise, we will continue to undervalue and overburden women,” says Ms Komba.

She adds that employers should consider the existing huge gender pay gap when hiring.

Paid employees

Out of the respondents who worked for at least one hour during the seven days preceding the survey period, 55.9 per cent were aged 35-64 years while those aged 25-34 constituted 33.8 per cent and those aged 18-24 constituted 10.2 per cent.

Almost half (48.5 per cent) of the respondents were working employers and own account workers while slightly more than a third (35 per cent) were paid employees.

About four out of ten males were in paid employment compared to about three out of ten of the females.

Oxfam came up with a raft of recommendations for stakeholders including government, media, the private sector, civil society and citizens.

They include development and inclusion of gender-responsive budget policies that recognise unpaid care and domestic work in citizens’ lives.

Labour-saving equipment

The organisation also recommends collaboration among diverse stakeholders, including religious leaders, private sector, the media and government to develop evidence-based social norms interventions that encourage men to share responsibilities for unpaid care and domestic work.

“Government should also invest in public services, social protection and infrastructure to reduce long hours of unpaid care and domestic work for women and the related negative health impacts and opportunity costs.,” Oxfam’s recommendation reads in part.

It also recommends that the State carries out evidence-based policy advocacy that will allow freeing up women’s time and allow more women to participate in social, political and economic life, as it pushes for the development of public communications, advertisements and public service announcements that positively reinforce men’s roles in caring for children and families

It also proposes development actors to partner with the private sector and government to manufacture and provide labour saving equipment and technology to low-income households.

Public and private institutions have been asked to make provision for care supporting services and spaces in meeting and workplaces, for example, breastfeeding spaces and child care facilities.