Bangladeshi women speak up about care and cooking

Gender, Inequality

In the second part of a series on unpaid care work, Golam Fazle Rabbani, describes how assessing working hours led to better stoves and improved gender equality in one of the poorest regions of Bangladesh.

Purbo Gabgachi is a village of Fulchari sub-district of Gaibandha char (river island) area in Bangladesh which is affected by flood throughout the monsoon season each year. The char areas have some of the highest levels of poverty in the country. Chili is the main cash crop in the area and mostly women are engaged in its production and processing along with their regular unpaid care work. Women in  this area have limited or no access to markets or finance; they have less bargaining power and
limited income.

In 2013 Oxfam begun its support to the Chili Traders’ Enterprise of Fulchari through the Enterprise Development Programme by providing them with business development support and access to loans. In the same year, integrating the Rapid Care Analysis Tool from the Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) programme, Oxfam in Bangladesh also conducted a two-day exercise which facilitated the quick and easy assessment of care work
and helped participants to recognise its importance. 

Leaders in the community held five focus group discussions to get a better understanding of how women and men used their time in Gaibandha district. They were not surprised about the long hours people work, but what could be more surprising is the way in which the findings on unequal hours of care work lead to a debate about stoves.

What did we do this week - Bangladesh Gaibandha Focus groupWomen reported an 84 hour work week, 16% more than men’s 70 hours a week. The group estimated women are paid for 31% of their work hours, while men are paid for 90%. During the chilli
harvest
, however, when women dry and sort chillies, they work up to 40% more hours, because men don’t help more in the house. Although women play a key role in the chilli production, they rarely get involved in selling the produce to the mainland markets.

Generally, women stay at home and most of the care work is done by them. Women spend about 60% of their time (8.25 hours per day) on unpaid care work while men spend only one hour, typically looking after children or collecting drinking water and fire wood. Additionally, women’s care responsibilities may include a father-in-law or brother-in-law.

If a woman is ill, busy with agriculture or not at home, men will take on some unpaid tasks that are usually done by the women, such as feeding the cows and goats, moving the cattle into the shade from the field, collecting water or chopping firewood. Although home based processing is mostly done by women, men sometimes help them with drying the chillies and packaging and storing the marketable products in the household. They also sometimes help with homestead gardening and household repairs.

Women and men identified which care tasks are difficult or time-consuming, and proposed context-specific options to redistribute care responsibilities more equitably through community conversations about roles in the household, and to reduce time for tasks. The existing cooking systems were slow and required more fuel collection. Women argued that improved equipment could greatly reduce the time required to provide this care. This started the discussion about improved stoves in Gaibandha.

In February 2014 the project invested in 50 fuel efficient stoves for members of the chilli enterprise. But what impact have they had?

“I can cook two items together and very fast. Now I can do more work in chilli field”

Fulbanu Begum (50) has been engaged in chilli cultivation for last 15 years. Generally, Fulbanu spends 8-9 hours a day doing all unpaid care work in her home, looking after her husband, Mr. Hyder Ali and two sons. Her day used to start between 4.30-5.00 am and would be spent on care work (cooking, washing, cleaning and serving food) as well as roughly 4-5 hours of productive work. She used to go to bed at 10.00 to 10.30 pm. 

This sounds hard, but during the chilli season Fulbanu would work even more, spending an extra 3-4 hours a day on farm work like weeding, irrigation, harvesting, drying, sorting, packaging and storing.

Five months ago Fulbanu’s household received an fuel efficient stove. The stove consumes less fuel but produces more heat and is smoke free. Her old handmade stove used to require 3.5 to 4.0 hours for cooking, but now she can cook in 2.5 to 3 hours. As a result, she can save 1 to 1.5 hours daily and spends this time in productive work like drying, sorting, packaging and selling chilli. This extra work has resulted in an improvement in the quality of her chilli and she has earned BDT 2500 to 3000 more from chilli this season. She
also now gets more leisure time.  

Reducing care work, in this way, by using modern technology builds confidence among the women and helps them to get involved in more paid work which increases their economic leadership.  

Another chilli producer Nasima Begum, was also given an improved stove. She summed up the experience of many of the women when she said:  “I can cook two items together and very fast. Now I can do more work in chilli field”. 

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: Golam Fazle Rabbani
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.