The Issues

Links between Women's Economic Empowerment and unpaid care work

Women’s increasing entry into paid work has not been accompanied by a change in the gendered division of unpaid care work, revealing the persistence of gendered disadvantage in the economy.

There are strong links between women’s economic empowerment and their unpaid care work. For instance, the unequal burden of unpaid care work on women corrodes their ability to seek employment and income, at the same time as limiting their participation in civil, political and social spheres. More critically, the routine necessity of care-giving, particularly for small children, can push women into low-paid, often unsafe informal work that accommodates care responsibilities because of its flexibility of timing and location. Working in the informal sector limits economic gains for women, in addition often also having a negative impact on women’s bodies. Women’s income from paid work may also be eroded by the need for substitute care, which defeats the very objective of economic empowerment.

Working mothers frequently depend on older women and children, usually daughters, to care for smaller children, with adverse impacts on their education, health, and leisure. Women in paid work may not be able to adequately substitute for their care responsibilities, and therefore the care and human development outcomes of both the women, and those being cared for, may be compromised.

Studies have measured the time women spend on care work and other unpaid contributions to the economy. However, the relationship between women’s paid and unpaid work has not been studied in depth. There is little research that describes the effects of women’s employment on the social organisation of care within low-income families in developing countries. Policies that encourage women to enter the labour force often do not consider these aspects, thereby limiting the economic empowerment outcomes that these policies aim to bring about.

More on unpaid care

Prevailing gender norms mean that, across all societies, women and girls undertake the bulk of unpaid care work, such as looking after and educating children, looking after older family members, caring for the sick, preparing food, cleaning, and collecting water and fuel. This unequal burden of unpaid care undermines women and girls’ rights (to decent work, to education, to health, to rest and leisure) and limits their opportunities. It impedes their economic empowerment, hindering women from seeking employment and income, which in turn holds them back economically.

Along with its international partners, the Institute of Development Studies has been exploring the political economy conditions under which policy actors recognise or ignore the significance of unpaid care. 

Find out more about unpaid care work on Interactions 

  • Upcoming event: Interventions for women’s economic empowerment in South Asia

    Join us at the What Works Global Summit in London from 26-28 September. The session, Interventions for women’s economic empowerment in South Asia, on Wednesday 28 September, 9-10.15 am, in BO7, at Birkbeck College, will describe the early qualitative and quantitative results from three studies that are evaluating interventions for increasing women’s economic empowerment in the South Asian context. The panel will conclude with a synthesis of research findings, a discussion of research gaps, and a consideration of policy implications.

  • Participatory methods in mixed methods research – a methodological treasure

    Since the inception of the GrOW project, on unpaid care work and women´s economic empowerment, the team mixed three strands of research methods – qualitative, quantitative and participatory. Kas Sempere writes about  the particular professional challenges of these methods in the project taking place in India, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania.

  • Join us at AWID 2016

    We're thrilled to be involved in two sessions this year at the AWID Forum in Brazil. If you're planning to go to AWID 2016, please join us. Friday 9th September, 11:00 to 13:00 (BRT) Building gender-just social movements: stories of success and routes for transformation, and from 14:30-16:30 Reclaiming our power. gender and knowledge: a feminist approach to new technologies.

    from IDS