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Unpaid care work

Published Jun 22, 2016 05:21am


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The writer is associated with PILER.
The writer is associated with PILER.

IF you ask 100 women in Pakistan whether they work, 78 of them will respond that they do not – our female labour force participation rate is 22pc. If probed further on how they spend their time, they might mumble: “I cook, clean, send children to school, buy groceries, and take care of infants, toddlers and the elderly ...” The list would go on.

If the setting is rural, they might tell you that they “milk cows, clean barns, bring firewood, fetch water, cook, wash clothes, care for the family…” And on it goes. The irony is not that women themselves fail to recognise the labour they put into their families and homes, or care work, as ‘work’. The irony lies in the fact that society at large, and policymakers in particular, do not recognise the value of care work.

Fortunately, the world has now come to accept the fact that unpaid care work is a moral, social and economic issue with serious implications — for it drives gender inequity, impinges upon human rights and obstructs the overall development and growth of society.

Almost 75pc of global unpaid work is performed by women, which is estimated to constitute 16pc of the global GDP in value. Another recent study of six countries estimates that the value of unpaid care work, when applied at the minimum wage rate, is between 20pc to 40pc of the countries’ GDPs. According to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, unpaid care work performed by women globally is worth around $10 trillion a year. Where does this $10tr go annually? Well, it is pocketed by governments — both in developed and developing countries — the elites and the people who own offshore companies, ie rich and powerful men.

The state must recognise the unpaid labour of women.

Tax policies that discriminate against low-income groups (in which women are over-represented) — favouring higher-income individuals, landed owners and corporations, relying on indirect taxing, and cutting social security benefits, public services and infrastructure development — lead to disproportionate amounts of unpaid care work performed by women. The opportunity cost paid by women for unpaid care work is immense and its implications profound in developing countries such as Pakistan. Unpaid care work obstructs women’s access to equal opportunities in education, healthcare and skill development. Due to their work loads, they cannot participate in decision-making or public and cultural activities. Women end up in low-paid, insecure jobs — and the vicious cycle of gender inequality is perpetuated.

As money dominates the global value system and unpaid care work is not ascribed its proper value, it is neither recognised nor valued and caregivers (ie women) are not respected. Ascribing monetary value to the chores, considered inferior and beneath the dignity of men in our society, is unthinkable for those who prescribe ‘light beating’ meted out to caregivers. They need not be alarmed; women of the world, least of all in Pakistan, are not asking to monetise unpaid care work.

Since the issue of unpaid care work was tabled at the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development and the Beijing World Conference on Women in 1995 – when the question of why unpaid care work could not be included in the System of National Accounts standardised by the UN first arose to prominence — the debate on unpaid care work has slowly gained momentum. Political economists and sociologists have proposed theories, suggested different frameworks, explored linkages between market and non-market activities, and come up with definitions, tools and techniques of measuring unpaid care work.

From 2000 onward, a number of developed and developing countries have started using time-use surveys to measure the value of unpaid care work and its share in the country’s GDP. A real breakthrough in this debate came when in 2008 British economist and sociologist, Diane Elson, suggested ‘the 3 Rs’ — recognise, reduce and redistribute — framework to address issues of unpaid care work. Another milestone has been the UN’s Special Report on Extreme Poverty 2013, which positions unpaid care work as a major human rights issue and notes that “failure of states to adequately provide, fund, support and regulate care contradicts their human rights obligations.”

The state stands indicted of this issue and has a central role to play in its remedy. Our government needs to recognise unpaid work. The Federal Bureau of Statistics can introduce time-use surveys to measure care work. Burden on women can be reduced through investments in infrastructure with revenue generated from tax reforms. It is sad that, instead of increasing direct taxes, policymakers have reduced corporate tax by 30pc in the 2016-17 budget.

Pakistan’s current tax-to-GDP ratio, at 11.5pc, is very low; it must be raised to 20pc through direct taxes, inclusive of agriculture. Finally, unpaid work can be redistributed through investment in public services — including free universal education, healthcare, access to water and sanitation — and by adopting social protection measures and complying with ILO labour standards.

The writer is associated with PILER.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd , 2016

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (7) Closed

illawarrior Jun 22, 2016 07:11am

"unpaid care work performed by women globally is worth around $10 trillion a year. Where does this $10tr go annually? " It goes nowhere because it never existed to begin with. If a woman, (or a man), looks after children or parents, no money is involved. They are not doing someone else out of a job, because there is no money to pay anyone else to do it.

Shalone Jun 22, 2016 10:23am

It is true that traditionally women work at home and take it as part of their duties and not strict work environment. That is one of the less problematic in Pakistan compared to other brutality they have to put up with. Many do everything to please to avoid getting a bad name and thrown out of the family without any compensation of keeping the same standard of living. Things are much better for a small minority of well off women do not do anything and household help does the cooking, cleaning and other manual jobs.

Farheen Ghaffar Jun 22, 2016 11:21am

Interesting article. But I don't see any concrete solutions highlighted. Would a farmer in a typical village setting allow his daughter to attend school, knowing that he needs her as an extra working hand? I believe it's more of a socio-cultural issue and needs to be studied at the roots. Why are women from the lower income segment not invested in their future, i.e. education, vocational training? What about the women who have managed to study, despite their circumstances? Usually happens in cases of supportive family / tribes. It could have reasons linked to women empowerment, conservative outlook of the men in our society, or limited government spending on social infrastructure. You have only mentioned the last of these.

aly alp-ercelan Jun 22, 2016 03:41pm

good reminder.

pluto Jun 22, 2016 05:32pm

We are supposed to pay more taxes so that they can own more offshore companies and accounts.

Eramanagalam Somapalan Jun 22, 2016 08:25pm

Yes, another area of darkness, thanks for lightening it up.

Ravi Vancouver Jun 24, 2016 12:46am

This article is strange thinking as Women are expected to stay home and do work at home and bear light beating from husband for any mistakes in their work. In western societies husband and wife are equal partners in Family and in the case of divorce both share the properties equally in the family even if wife is not working outside. So both have equal share of the saving from efforts done by husband and wife and is fair to both of them. This arrangement is existing in most secular countries but is not accepted norm in Islamic society for that matter in any religious society, so it is a state solution to equality for men and women. In a religiously governed society a woman is never compensated for its work at home.