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May Day: Do we need to recognize unpaid care work?

  • Published at 11:35 pm April 30th, 2019
A woman working at kitchen
A woman working in kitchen at home Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

'They expected me to cook. It’s now expected that men will share housework with the wife. My husband showed he was willing, but his family protested, saying kitchen is women’s duty, not men’s'

Fariha Rahman, (not her real name), got married last December, and took a month-long leave from her office to adjust with her new life. But she was shocked by what her in-laws thought about kitchen chores.

“They expected me to cook. It’s now expected that men will share housework with the wife. My husband showed he was willing, but his family protested, saying kitchen is women’s duty, not men’s,” said Fariha.

“From my experience in the last few months, it’s clear they are taking my work for granted. Although I have a job, my contribution at home is never considered ‘work’ nor valued with love,” she added.

“Converting that into paid work? That is unimaginable.”

“The irony is that they pay a maid for the same work I am doing in the evening,” she added.

According to a study, average hours of work (both paid and unpaid) for women and men are 15.3 hours in Bangladesh. Of this, women spend 6.3 hours and men spend 1.1 hours daily on care work.

In comparison, in India women spend 5.1 hours a day and men spend only 24 minutes for care work.

The study, titled “Incorporation of Women's Economic Empowerment and Unpaid Care Work into Regional Policies In Bangladesh,” was carried out by ActionAid Bangladesh.

In the past and today, women's contribution to their families has not been recognized as work, to the extent that women who work at home are described as ‘doing nothing,’ said Arunduty Rani, a program coordinator for Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES).

FES supports the “Political Feminism in Asia” project, which is focused on recognition of care work and strengthening of maternity rights.

Why unpaid care work needs recognition

Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Senior Research Fellow Towfiqul Islam Khan, who has been working on recognition of unpaid care work, explained why this was necessary.

“A large part of economic activities - household chores, care and agricultural work - is undertaken by women, but remains unaccounted for in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP),” he said.

“This conceals their contribution in the national economy. However, if we estimate the unpaid care work is equivalent to 78-87% of the GDP,” said Towfiqul.   

Referring to the International Labour Organization’s report on care work, care economy expert Professor Vibhuti Patel of the Indian Tata Institute of Social Sciences said that women spend 4.1 times more time in the Asia-Pacific in unpaid care work than men.

“Women play a crucial role in the socio-economic development of a country. But both in the industrially developed and less developed countries, women are burdened with cumulative inequalities as a result of discriminatory socio-economic practices,” she said.

“The situation is much worse, particularly in the case of rural women. Women with care responsibilities are more likely to be self-employed and working in the informal economy,” said Vibhuti.

“Attitudes towards gender division of paid and unpaid care work are changing, but the male breadwinner family model remains very much ingrained within societies, along with women’s caring role in the family continuing to be central,” the professor added.

Entrepreneur Dilruba Sutana Meemo, mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old child, said that care work cannot be valued by money, or by including it under labour rights. 

She believes that rather than a monetary evaluation, what needs to change is societal attitude towards women’s work.

“A woman works at home because she loves to take care of her family. Many women in Bangladesh choose to be a housewife. I enjoy working at home. Household work is also considered work in my family. I never felt the necessity of measuring my contribution with money,” she said.

“This responsibility of household work needs to be equal for all family members. When family members do not recognize the contribution of women or wives, interventions need to be made. It is the support of husband and family members towards women that we need,” Dilruba said.

Bangladeshis today have grown up learning to define work responsibilities by the gender, she said.

“Our mindset needs to change first, otherwise recognizing the care work will not be able to ensure equality, respect or financial freedom.”

How unpaid care work can be recognized 

Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) Senior Research Fellow Towfiqul Islam Khan suggested some methods for estimating unpaid work in the country’s GDP. 

“CPD is now working on a policy brief on Household Satellite Accounts Approach, mainstreaming the inclusion of women’s unpaid work in System of National Accounts (SNA) which will complement the traditional economic accounts by using disaggregated data of physical and monetary accounting,” he said.

Emphasizing on the necessity of a government initiative, the researcher said: “The government needs to have political will as well as undertake necessary policy steps towards reforming the estimation practice of SNA in order to reflect women’s unaccounted activities in the estimated GDP.”

He also suggested for the government to consider forming a technical committee consisting of statisticians, economists, gender specialists, advocacy groups and relevant stakeholders who can give concrete input for developing an acceptable methodology for incorporating women’s unaccounted contribution in the GDP which will help recognition of women’s contribution to the economy and society.

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) include, under Goal 5, the recognition and valuation of unpaid care and domestic work through provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies.

Women and Children Affairs Ministry’s Additional Secretary (Development and Planning Wing) Laila Jesmin told the Dhaka Tribune that the recognition of unpaid care is not only important for national economy but also to ensure equality in the society.