A full time job with no pay – would you agree to that?

Gender, Inequality

The recently launched infographics on unpaid care work illustrate the demands, impact and unequal share of responsibility across Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Honduras, Nicaragua South Africa, Republic of Korea (South) and Tanzania. Here, Claudia Seiler looks at how Germany and the UK compare and why issues of unpaid care are closer to home than we might

Oxfam recently launched a set of infographics that illustrate the impact of unpaid care work on women’s ability to achieve equality with men in paid work and contributing significantly to poverty and gender inequality.

Looking at the first set of infographics (Who works more), which compares time use in six countries, I find myself wondering what the equivalent figures would show for the countries that I call home; Germany and the United Kingdom. As a mother of two young children I know what providing care for my family encompasses. I have to make choices on how to distribute my time between unpaid care work, paid work
and spare time, knowing that my choices will affect not only me but everybody in the family.

The infographics make it very clear who is doing the majority of work and who’s getting paid for it

The infographics draw upon national time-use studies from Argentina, India, Nicaragua, South Africa, Republic of Korea (South) and Tanzania and make it very clear who is doing the majority of work and who’s getting paid for it. When unpaid care work is included, all national time-use studies find women’s total work hours are greater than men’s. And in all cases men are paid for more hours of their work than women.

In India, women’s average hours of unpaid care work already exceeds the widely recognised 40 hour work week. That is before adding another 20 hours of so called ‘productive and paid work’ on top of it. 

The term ‘productive and paid work’ may be deceptive as it could suggest that the paid share of the women’s total work is actually not too bad. But in the 2008 Budlender report, the UN Research Institute for Social Development defines ‘productive’ as including the unpaid, but potentially tradable services such as collecting fuel and water. And, as you can imagine, the fuel and water is mostly for personal use, hence not traded and not turned
into income. Clearly, some men and boys also spend most of their days on unpaid work and some women do long hours of paid work. But the gender inequality over the division of paid and unpaid work on average is huge.

How do Germany and the UK compare?

When searching for further information about national time use in my two home countries, I found what I was looking for on the OECD website. I’m not surprised to see that the general trend of women’s average unpaid care work hours exceeding men’s is also present in these two countries. In Germany, on average, women spend 12.3 hours per week more on unpaid care work than men; in the UK it is 13.7 hours

What could you do with 13 hours more per week? Over a year, that’s 676 hours of gender inequality.

What I am surprised to find, though, is that men in Germany and the UK spend significantly more hours on unpaid care work than in the countries looked at in the UNRISD report, in Germany an average of around 19 hours per week, in the UK the average for men is still over 16 hours. That’s encouraging. 

But then, in both countries, on average, men are still doing around 13 hours less unpaid work per week than women. Thinking of the potential that these hours hold for women brings me back to reality. 

You might think that a difference of less than 2 hours a day is not much (perhaps not when comparing it to the nearly 8 hours a day difference in India). But what could you do with 13 hours more per week? Retraining, overtime, more exercise or leisure or even just more sleep?! Over a year, that’s 676 hours of gender inequality, and over a decade? A whopping, 6,760 or 281 days, nearly three quarters of a year.  Working 5 days a week for 50 weeks is 250 days, so this is more than a year ‘s full time job, with no pay, over a decade. So you can see, there’s still a long
way to go.

What Oxfam has learnt?

In 2013 Oxfam conducted a series of Rapid Care Analysis, an exercise with focus groups of women and men seen as a first step to addressing care in development. They have provided some of the information for the new infographics and they give me an idea about how women and men distribute their time in certain regions in Azerbaijan, Bangladesh and Honduras.

The quotes taken from these focus group discussions make one thing very clear: women (and men) in many countries are also struggling with balancing work, unpaid care work and paid work. And unpaid care work is likewise undervalued, unequal, and sometimes invisible, with too few services to support carers

And, although some proposals for intervention drawn from these focus groups discussions are not applicable to the situation of families in developed countries, others surprisingly are.

For many women, unpaid care work is the majority of their total work hours

Take for example the practical solutions proposed in the focus groups, what would we do without running water, reliable electricity supply and services that we count on to care for ourselves and our families? For women in rural communities in the developing world, practical solutions as simple as fuel
efficient stoves
can quickly reduce the daily hours of household work and motivate groups to continue addressing care. 

And then look at ways to improve gender relations which these 14 communities have identified in their focus group discussions. In the developed world some men and women might be in need of cooking lessons, but besides that, solutions to redistribute unequal care responsibilities on household level are just as relevant in all countries.

The need for advocacy work with local governments varies greatly depending on your country of residence to increase childcare, disabled care or  elder care services, and benefits for employed people such as paid family leave and maternity/paternity leave. Overall, we’ve learnt that, for many women, unpaid care work is the majority of their total work hours. We need to address this for women to be able to achieve equality with men in paid work, in education and in politics. Women also have less leisure time, and more care work per day
than men, which impacts directly on their mobility, health and well being.

Oxfam’s findings show that community participants and Oxfam staff show great enthusiasm for change and that it is feasible to make change happen.

But there’s still something missing. Evidence is necessary to incite change. That can happen on a small scale leading to quick, tangible improvements. But it can and should also happen on a bigger scale leading to recognition and investment into care by institutions and governments, adjusting the way families are supported on how they provide care.

Read more

Infographics on care

‘Heavy and unequal care’ responsibilities are a significant and fundamental driver of poverty and gender inequality which can and must be addressed in development programmes. The images below link to a series of infographics developed to convey four key messages about care work.

Who works more?

What did we do this week?

What do we think about care?

What can we do?

   Who works more?     What did you do today?     What we think about care? What can we do?

Author: Claudia Seiler
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.