More work, less pay for women

More work, less pay for women

Date: January 1, 1970
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“No, my mommy doesn’t work,À chirped the children. Never mind that the average mother puts in 30 hours of unpaid domestic work every week. The children could not see it. Neither did governments or institutes of statistics. Their work was invisible, unpaid, and unrecognised.

That was in 1983 and the children were interviewed in a video presented at the Latin American and Caribbean Feminist Conference in Peru. A quarter of a century later, women’s unpaid work is very visible thanks to a new tool, time use surveys, adopted in 2007 by all governments in the Latin American region.
Some Southern African countries have already benefitted from knowledge gained through time use surveys about the scope of women’s work, especially related to HIV and AIDS care. However, gender differences in time use will soon be much clearer. The Gender and Development Protocol signed by the majority of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders (except, Botswana, Mauritius, and Malawi) In August 2008 commits signatories to conduct time use studies and adopt policy measures to ease the burden of women’s multiple roles by 2015.
Time use surveys are detailed questionnaires that note what men, women and youth do in their time – the hours spent in cleaning, cooking, washing, caring for children, the sick, the elderly, the disabled and pets, shopping, waiting for transport, fetching water and firewood, at church, doing sports, and hundreds of other activities. The result is an accurate picture of women and girls’ disproportionate burden of unpaid domestic and family work.
For example, in Uruguay, a woman devotes an average of 28.6 hours every week to unpaid domestic work, while her male compatriot spends 12.5, says a 2007 time-use survey by the National Institute of Statistics (INE, in Spanish). Caring for children and the elderly requires an additional 17.8 hours of her each week, and 10.1 from him. And when men look after the kids…it’s mostly play and outings.
“We have to unpack the myth that women don’t work and we need to do it with accurate figures,” said Carlos Calvo, from the INE Statistical Division, speaking at the Commission for the Status of Women in New York in early March.
In Ecuador, the average weekly workload of a woman is 22 hours longer than a man’s. For a rural indigenous woman, it is 29 hours longer. Women employ twice the number of hours than men in cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, and childcare.
This data helps formulate adequate policies. In Uruguay, a country with a small and aging population of 3.5 million and low fertility, the survey picked up the time women spend caring for the elderly. Uruguay has done well in setting up free crèches and pre-schools. Now it needs to look at the elderly.
“One-third of our people need care. The government must take this data into account,” said Calvo. One possibility would be public-private partnerships to provide decent and cheap daily care for the elderly.
Time use surveys show that the domestic burden holds back women’s engagement in politics and in paid work. Women seeking jobs, explained Calvo, “look for certain specific conditions,” such as flexibility.
In Mexico, where 41% of women spend more than 14 hours every day in both paid and unpaid work, leaving 10 hours for rest, “women have little time for leisure and for political participation,” said Claudia Salas, from the National Institute for Women in Mexico.
It is estimated that the unpaid work of Mexican women equals 21.6% of the country’s national gross product, the same as the commercial sector’s. “Time-use studies help us achieve our goal of building a gender perspective in infrastructure works,” said Salas.
She recalled that, after a massive public works project built daycare centres in poor neighbourhoods for 200,000 women with young children, a survey found that 45% of the women had found a job.
The gender dimensions of time use emerge clearly through the surveys. The Uruguayan study found that boys aged 14-17 least help around the house, clocking in 8.5 hours a week, while girls of the same age work 14 hours.
This alerts policy-makers to an early socialisation process in the family that underpins the unequal distribution of domestic tasks. Socialisation explains why those children in the 1983 video could not see that their mothers worked.
Remembering the video, Gladys Acosta, chief of the Latin America and Caribbean Section of the United Nations Fund for Women (UNIFEM, described it as “our first activist task to make the invisible work, visible.”
Since 1983, an alliance of academics, politicians and feminist activists has popularised and legitimised time-use surveys in the region. Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Colombia pioneered their use.
In 2007, the Summit of Ibero-American Heads of State, in Santiago de Chile agreed to include time-use questions in household surveys in order to measure women’s upaid contribution to the economy.  The meeting also set up a regional Observatory of Gender Equality that will, among other things, assist national statistical institutes with time-use surveys.
“We need to generate data disaggregated by race, ethnicity, and age,” explained Sonia Montano, director of the Division for Gender Affairs at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Time use surveys are key to profile gender inequality and start redressing it. In the words of Acosta, “Care work should be valued, paid, and shared.”
Mercedes Sayagues is a South Africa-based writer. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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