• Authored By: Regean Mugume
14 Mar 2023

Unpaid care work is critical for the welfare of all people at household and community levels. Chores such as cooking, washing utensils, taking care of the sick, and collecting firewood are critical to the household’s well-being.

This work is hardly appreciated, and the burden is disproportionately borne by women. Women and girls spend at least six hours daily on unpaid care activities compared to four hours by men and boys, according to a baseline study by Economic Policy Research Centre, Makerere University School of Women and Gender studies, and Care International. The study is supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Canada.

Social and gender norms play a crucial role to burden women with unpaid care work in households. Most communities have defined what men and women can and cannot do.

Failure to abide by these norms is met with sanctions, including disregard in families, and rebuke from community circles. A man helping his wife to cook or wash utensils is “bewitched.”

Women, who are the burden bearers, also embrace these norms and look at unpaid care work as their duty which defines their identity in society. Our study asked, “who contributed more to family wellbeing,” and majority of women said “men” – an indicator that they viewed contribution majorly in monetary terms, and the significance of domestic care work is hardly recognised even by those burdened to provide it.

Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underscore the need to address negative gender and social norms that continue to derail women and girls progress in the world of work. Governments are tasked to recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies.

Several policies such as the National Employment Policy (2011), National Child Labour Policy (2006), and Male Engagement Strategy (2017) touch a few aspects of unpaid care work but do not address the disproportionate burden suffered by women.

Man, holding his baby, shares experience with community.

As result, the unpaid care work has persistently limited women participation in paid employment. Even the women that take up jobs are underemployed in small businesses such as starting up a nearby market stall to enable them balance home chores and paid work.  Such jobs can only guarantee very small earnings which leaves women poor, vulnerable, and dependant on men.

There is need for a paradigm shift by society from the engrained social norms that define unpaid care work, all the way from the families and communities up to the national level since we all benefit from care work.

Domestic care work should be recognised, equally redistributed among women and men to reduce its burden from women. Men need to participate in domestic work equally to be good examples for both girls and boys alike.

This requires leveraging technology to creatively design purpose-specific labour-saving devices (e.g., water gathering solutions, piped water, cookstoves, food processors and other low wattage solar-powered home appliances).

Elders, religious, and political leaders need to emphasise the need for men to help their wives.  Government policies, plans and budgets need to be cognizant of the role of unpaid care work in the economy.

Technologies such as mobile money/digital payments need to be made affordable for women to use to do business remotely and/ or carry simple errands such as deposit of school fees for their children instead of having to queue up at school or bank.

This article was first published in the print version of New Vision on March 8, 2023