Counting the cost of unpaid care work
It is estimated that if unpaid care work which women mostly do were assigned monetary value, it would constitute between 10 and 39 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). When women’s unpaid work is quantified in monetary terms there possibly would be a positive impact not only on their health but their children’s too.
In Ghana, women in either formal or informal employment spend not less than 10 hours daily in unpaid care contributing to their well-being, social development and economic growth. They routinely are engaged in domestic duties such as cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, collecting water and fuel, sending children to school and taking other direct care of persons including children, older persons and family members with disabilities.
In spite of the hustle and bustle every day to care for children’s needs and their education, women in the formal sector have to leave their children at day care centers to be attended to while they mind their work but these still have consequences in terms of how the children are cared for. Women in waged work with young children do 46 hours a week of housework (childcare, cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, gardening/DIY) compared to 25 hours by men. Meanwhile, two-thirds of women working out of the home full-time do most of the housework according to Red magazine (Jan. 2000), which also indicates that 45% of women work over 40 hours a week doing waged jobs, whilst 10% of them work over 50 hours (Guardian, 4 Jan. 1999).
These daily commitments of women in seeing to the upkeep of their family can be likened to a hen glued to her chicks as if to protect them from the claws of hawks. From dawn to dusk, women in rural areas add such jobs as gleaning the least of grains to provide the nutritional needs of their children. The sun rises with her and sets with her still glued to the day’s drudgery like it was no one’s business, ensuring her survival.
Though Care is essential for human wellbeing and for economic development in all communities, women bear greater responsibility for unpaid care than men. Despite the drudgery women go through, in addition to formal employment as in the case of some women, these efforts are yet to be recognized and appreciated.
Reports of growth rates of many African economies have expressed positive GDP growth, but how these transcend on livelihoods of women is another matter. A third of career women spend over 20 hours a week in unwaged caring work. This caring work has been valued at £39.1 billion a year, according to a British Medical Association report. There is surely evidence about the extent of unpaid care work that women and girls do, and their contributions to both the economy and human development.
Stereotyped roles accepted in African communities’ compromise the potentials of women leading them mostly to perform caring roles without monetary returns. The manner in which gender roles are assigned by communities denote women and girls as care providers which undermine the rights of girls and women, as well as placing limitations on opportunities and capabilities thereby impeding their empowerment. In communities where communal boreholes are further away from the homes, girl children are those who do the routine supply of water for domestic use in the family.
Prevailing gender norms here mean women and girls undertake the bulk of unpaid care work such as looking after and educating children. Miss Fati Abdulai , the Director of Widows and Orphans Movement (WOM) in the Upper East Region advocated for community redistribution of these gender roles to reduce unpaid care work.
In the Upper East Region, some women and girls in the informal sector work in mining areas while others quarry stones to earn income. Though they may be earning from these activities the conditions under which they do these menial jobs cannot be over emphasized. Even at the community level, whilst women are tending to caring work, their male counterparts have advantages since at that same time the males would be engaged in seeking jobs that would offer them financial remuneration.
Though there have been calls for affirmative action by all governments to take the appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of violence against women and women’s unpaid work, the effort is yet to reduce the difficulties women and girl children face.
Miss Abdulai whose outfit deals with over 11,000 widows in the Upper East Region said the impact of unpaid work contributes to health hazards of women while they remained in poor situations. As part of efforts by her organization to cushion the plight of women in the informal sector, WOM collaborated with organizations such as Action Aid to support women. She said under the Women’s Rights to Sustainable Livelihoods (WRSL) programme of her organization, the women were given opportunities to earn some income while improving their lives at the same time.
Miss Abdulai admits that the contribution of unpaid care was vital as families could not survive without it. Meanwhile, she defines unpaid work as activities for survival, including caring for children and cleaning of the house. Large amounts of time spent by women and girls on unpaid care means that their participation in civil, economic, social spheres and in public life have been restricted with rippling implications such as the lack of leisure time, while drudgery associated with care may lead to adverse health outcomes.
Despite commitments of the Millennium Development Goals which seek to reduce by half poverty and promote gender equality, reports indicate that unpaid care work is directly linked to the economic empowerment of women and girls. However, how these have been applied in policy change is yet to be realized as means to change the situation and dreams of women.
Miss Abdulai noted that redistributing unpaid care where boys and girls, men and women would do same work would reduce the burden on women and girls and create opportunities for them to find other paid jobs to supplement the home. She said unequal distribution of care work and household chores between women and men raises much concern especially in terms of the right to equality and non-discrimination.
She called for holistic interventions from the District and Municipal Assemblies to recognize these roles of women and to bring projects such as schools and income generating activities to enable women with children leave their children to be attended to whilst they engaged in paid work.
She said women were vulnerable and their responsibility to continue in the care of orphaned children makes them even more vulnerable and more challenging. In terms of supporting the widows in agriculture and livestock, she said over 500 widows were benefitting from a goats scheme by which each woman received two goats to be recycled among group members when they have offspring.
The redistribution and recognition at the community level would go a long way to reduce the drudgery encountered by women and girls. She indicated that when communities begin to realize this need, the burden of women would reduce, and that it would also offer them time to do income earning work to supplement families’ budgets.
Women in the paid labour market may also not be able to adequately substitute for their care responsibilities and, therefore, the care and human development outcomes of those being cared for may also suffer. In times of economic crisis, the drudgery of unpaid care work increases at the same time as the demand and need for both unpaid care work and paid work increases.
By Fatima Anafu Astanga