• Authored By: Alon Mwesigwa
30 Mar 2024

Unpaid care work (UCW) burden such as caring for children, the elderly, and doing household chores like cooking, cleaning, and fetching water is still borne by women in this country.

Our baseline studies have shown that women in Uganda spend nearly six hours per day doing unpaid care work while men spend just three hours on the same. Cultural and social norms, inadequate public services, and infrastructure mean UCW burden on women has been cemented as the norm.

Our project From Promises to Action: shifting gender norms and public perceptions about unpaid care work in workplaces and families in Uganda, seeks to recognize, reduce, and redistribute UCW burden. During our routine field monitoring  visits, we interacted with local communities that are committed to confront archaic social and cultural gender norms, reduce UCW burden and empower women economically.

A woman prepares lunch for her family in Paliisa district, Eastern Uganda. Women in Uganda still spend much of their time doing unpaid care work. 

In the village, women still carry the bigger burden of unpaid care work. As men join their peers at trading centres and nearby bars, women stay at home to cook, clean, fetch water and collect firewood, care for minors and elderly members of the family, and escort children to school. Through this project’s trainings, communities have been made to know that these duties can be shared by both men and women to relieve the burden from one party.

A woman tends to her children in the rural eastern Uganda.

On top of doing other work, women naturally bear the duty to give life. However, lack of empowerment and limited access to reproductive health services means they produce many children that their families cannot take care of. Men often abandon these children with the woman, and she must solely carry the burden of not just taking care of them but also ensuring that they go to school. Consequently, many children end up not going to school, limiting their future potential.

A man in eastern Uganda holds a poster that reads ‘Education”. When men were asked what they would do to reduce the UCW burden, some indicated that ensuring their girl children stay in school positions them for future gainful paid employment

The impact of education on a girl-child can never be understated. During the training of male role models about UCW, they were asked about some of the activities they hoped to work together with their wives to reduce the burden of UCW.  Ensuring that their children acquire an education was one of those important measures raised. And not leaving out the girl child was stressed. Education means girls have more chances of getting stable paid employment in future. It also means they can see through negative cultural gender and social norms that hold women in backward practices.

Ready for change: community members trained about unpaid care work under this project and many said they were ready to go out in their communities to help other households share care work burden among themselves.

Creating awareness about unpaid care work and educating communities about the benefits of sharing care work at household level is major component of this project. Carry on materials such as t-shirt, apron with the wording, “sharing care work for a healthy family” were produced for the intervention communities. This is intended to aid the recipients to easily reach out to their communities with similar messages.

Men were enthusiastic participamts during trainings on the dangers of leaving UCW burden to women alone.

Given enough information, men are ready and willing to help their wives in care work at home. It’s a slow journey given the communities are governed by gender social norms that assign gender roles depending on whether you’re a man or a woman. Anecdotal stories shared by men we engaged showed that learning about unpaid care work makes them realise what a burden it is on the lives of women. Most of those that we have interacted with said they were either willing to change or had started to take on some chores to help their spouses.

Time that women save from engaging in UCW can be used to carryout income generating activities such as tailoring and retail trade

Intervention communities are ready to work together to do away with the archaic norms and customs that assign gender roles and leave women burdened with UCW. With more time created by having men share care work, women take on paid work activities such as tailoring and trade. Income from these activities supplement family. Women remain the poorest section of the population in the country. Having them able to engage in paid work activities means they can earn an income to not just lift them out of poverty but also enable them support their families financially.

The project is being implemented by Makerere University School of Women and Gender Studies Economic Policy Research Centre and Care International in Uganda. It is generously supported by IDRC, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Hawlett Foundation.

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