Working papers

'My Work Never Ends': Women's Experiences of Balancing Unpaid Care Work and Paid Work through WEE Programming in India 

Zaidi, M.; Chigateri, S.; Chopra, D. and Roelen, K.,  September 2017

This paper seeks to lay bare the contours and consequences of the relationship between paid work and unpaid care work for women in low-income households, in order to better understand the relationship between women’s participation in paid work and ‘economic empowerment’. It is also interested in analysing whether, and if so how, women (may) achieve a positive balance between their unpaid care work and paid work responsibilities such that their economic empowerment is optimised (women’s entry into paid work is enabled without deepening their time poverty or worrying about the quality of care received by their family), shared (across generations, so that other women/girls in the family are not left to bear the burden of care), and sustained (such that the quality of care provided to children improves as a result of their mother’s paid work). The paper seeks to do this by mapping the social organisation of care in low-income households across four sites in India, and assessing how women cope with their dual burdens. By focusing our analysis on two ‘women’s economic empowerment programmes’: the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in Rajasthan and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Madhya Pradesh, we also seek to analyse how women’s economic empowerment policy and programming can generate a ‘double boon’: paid work that empowers women and provides more support for their unpaid care work responsibilities.

'You Cannot Live Without Money': Balancing Women’s Unpaid Care Work and Paid Work in Rwanda

Rohwerder, B,; Müller, C,; Nyamulinda, B,; Chopra, D,; Zambelli, E,; Hossain, N,,  November 2017

This paper summarises the findings of mixed-methods research that was carried out in Rwanda as part of the ‘Balancing Unpaid Care Work and Paid Work: Successes, Challenges and Lessons for Women’s Economic Empowerment Programmes and Policies’ research project (2015–17). It reflects the voices and experiences of women and their household members participating in women’s economic empowerment (WEE) programmes across four sites in the rural districts of Musanze and Huye. Participants in two WEE programmes are represented, namely the state-run Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme (VUP), and ActionAid Rwanda’s Food Security and Economic Empowerment Programme. The question addressed by the research was: How can women’s economic empowerment (WEE) policies and programmes take unpaid care work into account in order to enable women’s economic empowerment to be optimised, shared across families and sustained across generations?

This study and its findings indicate that women are the primary caregivers in families, although older children in particular and spouses to some extent also engage in some care tasks. There is little help with care from outside the nuclear family. Women’s paid work opportunities are more limited than men’s because of gender norms around certain types of work and because they have less time to find out about paid work opportunities due to their involvement in care work. Women may do more than one job, and much paid work is temporary, occasional and irregular, as well as seasonal. Women’s income from paid work is important; but, whether sole earnings or combined, it is not always enough to meet household needs.

Balancing paid and unpaid work is a daunting task for the majority of women. Both care and paid work are often physically challenging and time consuming. Women have little time for leisure and personal use. Women who are the sole adult earners and carers for their families are struggling the most. Women who are relatively better off tend to live in families which have other adults also contributing to providing income and care.

A Trapeze Act: Balancing Unpaid Care Work and Paid Work by Women in Nepal

Ghosh, A.; Singh, A Chigateri, S.; Chopra, D.; Müller, C.,  November 2017

This working paper seeks to examine the relationship between unpaid care work and paid work that women in low-income households in Nepal perform, and whether, and if so how, they are able to maintain a balance between the two. It also examines the causes and consequences of the double burden on the physical and emotional wellbeing of women and their children. Further, the paper aims to create knowledge about how different stakeholders such as family, community, employers and state can contribute to women’s economic empowerment such that their economic empowerment is optimised (women’s entry into paid work is enabled without deepening their time poverty or worrying about the quality of care received by their family), shared (across generations, so that other women/girls in the family are not left to bear the burden of care) and sustained (such that the quality of care provided to children improves as a result of their mother’s paid work).

By examining women’s participation in two economic empowerment programmes – the Enterprise Development Programme (EDP) in Surkhet district and Karnali Employment Programme (KEP) in Jumla district – it also provides policy inputs on how women’s economic empowerment (WEE) policy and programming can generate a ‘double boon’: paid work that empowers women and provides more support for their unpaid care work.

Are Women Not ‘Working’? Interactions between Childcare and Women’s Economic Engagement

Chopra, D.; Saha, A.; Nazneen, S. and Krishnan, M. ,  January 2020
IDS WORKING PAPER 533 cover page

This paper seeks to examine how childcare impacts upon women’s economic engagement in India, Nepal, Tanzania, and Rwanda. In delineating the linkages between childcare, paid work, and other tasks that women carry out within and outside the house, this paper privileges women’s own perceptions of childcare as ‘work’, and the extent to which they see this as a tension between women’s caregiving role and their income-generating role. Our findings corroborate that women experience significant trade-offs as they engage in both market activities and childcare tasks. We highlight the important distinction between direct and supervisory childcare – with supervisory childcare taking up a large amount of women’s time across all contexts. In bringing women’s voices to the fore of the prevalent discourse of childcare being a ‘barrier’ to women’s paid work, this paper highlights the complex and bidirectional relationship between childcare and women’s economic engagement. Our analysis shows that for women from lower-income households, the effect of childcare on women’s engagement in paid work (hours, location, type, or nature of work) is mediated by different factors: (a) the economic condition of the household; (b) the availability of alternative care arrangements; (c) the household structure and; (d) alternative options (for both men and women) for paid work. This research highlights how complex and constrained women’s choices are, in a context of low-paid jobs and lack of support for childcare from other institutional actors, and how women posit childcare as a positive and desirable experience.

‘How Can It Be a Problem If You Need Them Both?’ Women Juggling Paid and Unpaid Care Work in Tanzania

Zambelli, E.; Roelen, K.; Hossain, N.; Chopra, D. and Twebaze Musoke, J.,  September 2017

This paper summarises the findings of mixed-methods research that was carried out in Tanzania. It reflects the voices and experiences of women and their household members participating in women's economic empowerment (WEE) programmes across four sites in the rural districts of Korogwe and Lushoto in Tanga region. Participants in two WEE programmes are represented, namely the state-run Women Development Fund (WDF) and Oxfam’s Food Security for Tanzanian Farmers programme. The question addressed by the research was: 'How can women's economic empowerment (WEE) policies and programmes take unpaid care work into account in order to enable women’s economic empowerment to be optimised, shared across families and sustained across generations?'

This study and its findings clearly indicate that women shoulder the majority of unpaid work and struggle to balance this with paid work responsibilities. While some tasks are shared with other household members, there is no evidence to suggest that women are in a position to redistribute unpaid care work responsibilities to the state, the market or the community. Reasons for this appear to be mainly grounded in gender norms, the lack of public provision of services that are essential for facilitating care as well as paid work, and the low returns on women’s (and men’s) paid work. This study highlights that if no explicit action is undertaken to support a rebalance – whether that is through addressing working conditions, childcare arrangements, social norms or values or otherwise – patterns of unbalance will reproduce and perpetuate themselves, offering women valuable economic opportunities that help to improve living conditions and possibly their position within household or community settings, but never stretching quite far enough to reduce drudgery and the physical and psychosocial stress of juggling too many responsibilities.