Unpaid care: Why time use survey results should be a wake-up call

Couple washing dishes. Sustainable Development Goal 5 requires states parties to “recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work, provide the necessary infrastructure, and promote shared responsibilities in households”.

Photo credit: Photo I Pool

What you need to know:

  • Kenya's first time use survey has confirmed that women bear heavier burden of unpaid care work.
  • SDG 5 requires countries to 'recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work and promote shared responsibilities in households'.

In line with Sustainable Development Goal 5, which requires states parties to “recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work, provide the necessary infrastructure, and promote shared responsibilities in households”, Kenya has produced its first ever national time use survey report, launched on October 18.

The report reveals how women and men of different age groups and geographical locations spend time, especially on unpaid work. By doing this, Kenya joins Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Africa, Algeria and Ghana, among African countries that have done so.

This data will aid in the development of the national unpaid care work policy, started on May 22 at a workshop convened by the State Department of Gender in collaboration with UN Women. Guidance on how such data should be used is contained in A Toolkit on Paid and Unpaid Care Work: From 3Rs to 5Rs by UN Women (2022).

The 5Rs refer to: recognising the work by assigning it an economic value; reducing the burden through technology and infrastructure; re-distribution by getting more men and boys to share in the work; rewarding it by direct or indirect payment; and representing it through professionalisation, protection, training and unionisation of those involved.

The report not only confirms that women spend more time than men on domestic and unpaid care work, it actually quantifies it. In this case, women spend 3 hours 36 minutes more than men on such tasks daily.

That this pattern is similar in rural and urban settings, and across age groups and social classes, suggests that such work is characterised as inherently belonging to women and further that the norms influencing gender division of labour are static across the country and ethnic cultures.

In terms of age, both younger men and women spend more time than older counterparts in unpaid work but the burden is still heavier on women.

The data further corroborates that women living in arid and semi-arid lands have a heavier domestic and unpaid care workload than their counterparts in other regions.

In this regard, women in Mandera, Wajir, Isiolo, Tana River, Samburu, Turkana, Marsabit, Narok, Garissa, Baringo and West Pokot spend more time on these chores than the national average.

The report also shows that men spend more time on productive activities than women, a factor consonant with the latter’s domination of formal employment and consignment of the latter to the domestic sphere.

In the survey population, 33.4 per cent of women compared to 54.15 per cent of men participated in employment and related activities.

Of the women in the survey, almost all (92.4 per cent) participated in unpaid domestic services for household and family members compared to 38.3 per cent of men.

The survey also shows that working women are not spared the burden as they spend 3 hours 18 minutes more on unpaid care and domestic work compared to men in a similar situation.

As it were, this is quantitative data that reveals what is happening. It is upon scholars now to delve into the qualitative dimensions by looking into why it is happening to identify the determinants that must be influenced to create change.

Candidate factors will obviously be culture, education, economics, policy, exposure, modernisation, legacy and the biophysical environment. But they have to be examined systematically and contextually to show the exact influence. Some pertinent questions emerge.

Why are women carrying the heavier burden in all counties? Are the norms on gender division of labour similar across the country? Why is the situation more conspicuous in arid and semi-arid lands? How is the burden spread in monogamous and polygamous unions, and in male-headed and female-headed households?


What are the implications of women’s heavy workload on parameters such as education, health, employment, career development and participation in the public sphere? What measures are in place to address the workload and how effective are they?

What lessons can be replicated from the finding that men in Marsabit, Turkana and Taita Taveta counties spend more time on unpaid domestic services for household and family members than those in other counties?

Besides providing scientific evidence that women’s domestic and unpaid care workload is onerous, the report also strengthens the provision in the Matrimonial Property Act that such work should be considered as contribution when dividing assets during dissolution of marriage so that women are not disadvantaged.

In time, more detailed time use studies should be done on the nuances of gender division of labour in various sectors and careers, and their implications.

In the meantime, one hopes to see this data incorporated in national accounts, inform resource allocation to gender equality programmes and influence macroeconomic policies and strategies, which were the objectives of the study. Not doing so would be wasteful, self-defeating, contemptuous and disastrous.

The writer is an international gender and development consultant and scholar ([email protected]).