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New report says unpaid work of women now a global crisis

New report says unpaid work of women now a global crisis

By Thenjiwe Ngwenya.

A new report says the unpaid work of women has created a wealth gap that is causing a crisis in economic development and hampering economic growth. The report recommends that the global community should address this crisis as a mater of urgency.

This is contained in an international report titled “Time to Care” that was released ahead of the World Economic Forum held on 21-24 January 2020 in Davos, Switzerland. “It was noted that there is a huge wealth gap between the rich and the poor, and that the issue of unpaid and underpaid care work of women and girls has now become a crisis that the world should deal with,” says the report released by Oxfam.

The report says that, on average, gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa over US$95 billion annually, which negatively affects the continent’s efforts to achieve inclusive human development and economic growth. Unpaid care work refers to all unpaid services provided within a household, which includes the care of persons as well as household and community work, while underpaid care work is described a spaying wages less than what is due or normally required.

Unpaid care work is both an important aspect of economic activity and an indispensable factor that constitutes to the well being of individuals, families and societies. However, unpaid and underpaid care work is a major contributing factor to gender inequality and poverty among women.

Women earn much less compared to male counterparts despite all the gender quality campaigns around the world, and the reports states that worldwide men own 50% more wealth than women. In most cases, women face a double burden due to multiple role responsibilities that include being a wife, caregiver, mother and also being an employee.

These multiple roles mostly provide cheap or free labour which should be paid for accordingly. Unpaid care work alone, calculated by Oxfam, reaches to the value of at least US$10.8 trillion a year and women also work 12.5 billion hours without pay or acknowledgement every year.

Numerous studies in southern Africa reveal that two-thirds of caregivers are women and one-quarter of these are over 60 years of age. In South Africa, a national evaluation of home-based care found that 91% of caregivers were women. This is due to several societal and cultural demands on women to adopt the role of a family caregiver.

The Tanzania Gender Networking Program (TGNP) did research on the HIV and AIDS care burdens that women encounter. There was evidence that women and girls continue to do most unpaid care-giving in all contexts, which hinder economic empowerment and also showed major policy implications, especially in reducing poverty.

However, gender inequality in unpaid and underpaid care work influences gender gaps and has significant implications for the ability of women to actively take part in the labour market.

Governments are recommended to facilitate the participation of unpaid carers and care workers in policy-making fora and processes at all levels, and invest resources into collecting comprehensive data that can better inform policy-making and evaluate the impact of policies on carers.

The SADC Gender Policy, adopted in 2007, stipulates that Member States shall integrate domestic unpaid work into national accounts and budgeting processes, with the objective of acknowledgement and valuing unpaid labour done by women, as well as budgeting essential services in this regard.

In Article 16 of the revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, Member States agreed to ‘recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies’.

However, the Oxfam report has shown that most countries, including SADC Member States, still have a long way to go in terms of recognising the importance of caregivers, and in the SADC region women spend more time on unpaid care work than men do.

In the region, the HIV and AIDS pandemic, and water and energy shortages are among the factors that have caused further constraints on the multiple roles of women, thus burdening women with additional labour that is unpaid and unacknowledged.


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