For women who spend all their hours doing unpaid work, the chores of the day kill the dreams of a lifetime. What do I mean by unpaid work? It’s work performed in the home, like childcare or other forms of caregiving, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and errands, done by a family member who’s not being paid. In many countries, when communities don’t have electricity or running water, unpaid work is also the time and labor women and girls spend collecting water and gathering wood.
This is reality for millions of women, especially in poorer countries, where women do a much higher share of the unpaid work that makes a household run.
On average, women around the world spend more than twice as many hours as men on unpaid work, but the range of the disparity is wide. In India, women spend 6 hours a day doing unpaid work, while men spend less than 1. In the US, women average more than 4 hours of unpaid work every day; men average just 2.5. In Norway, women spend 3.5 hours a day on unpaid work, while men spend about 3. There is no country where the gap is zero. This means that, on average, women do seven years more of unpaid work than men over their lifetimes. That’s about the time it takes to complete a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. When women can reduce the time they spend on unpaid work, they increase the time they spend on paid work. In fact, cutting women’s unpaid work from five hours a day to three boosts women’s participation in the labor force by about 20 percent.
That is hugely significant because it is paid work that elevates women toward equality with men and gives them power and independence. That’s why the gender imbalance in unpaid work is so significant: The unpaid work a woman does in the home is a barrier to the activities that can advance her getting more education, earning outside income, meeting with other women, becoming politically active. Unequal unpaid work blocks a woman’s path to empowerment.
Of course, there are some categories of unpaid work that can make life deeply meaningful, including caring for family members. But it’s saying nothing against the meaning and the value of caregiving to say that it helps all family members- those giving care and those taken care of- when these duties are shared.
- an excerpt from ‘The Moment of Lift’- Melinda Gates