Women carry burden of care work

Op1Vaidah Mashangwa
GENERALLY women work longer hours than men regardless of whether they live in a developed or developing country. While men and women share the same day and same time, women do between 80 to 82 percent of unpaid care work while men do between 10 to 12 percent of unpaid work. Women therefore report 6,8 hours of unpaid care work per day compared to 1,1 hours for men.

Some women who were interviewed pointed out that it depends with the kind of a man is one is married to. Some men will help their wives when they are sick or when they have small babies yet others won’t. A second interviewee pointed out that she was so agitated because women were still lagging behind because they do not spend much time on paid work.

After realising the burden of women and care work, Oxfam embarked on a three year programme running from 2014 to 2017 called the “We Care Programme” designed to build context specific evidence on unpaid care work, implement innovative interventions and influence policy and practice on care as part of women empowerment. Unpaid work places greater burden on women as it limits the participation of women in economic, political and social activities. Further, it hinders women’s mobility and leaves them with little time to do various income generating projects.

The We Care Programme is being implemented in Zvishavane, Umzingwane and Bubi Districts in Midlands, Matabeleland South and North provinces respectively. Oxfam works with various stakeholders including the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development.

At a recent multi-stakeholder workshop for the Women Economic Empowerment and Care Programme organised by Oxfam in Bulawayo, the guest of honour Deputy Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Cde Abigail Damasane bemoaned the excessive time women spend on care work. She pointed out that while there are other roles that society has to accept such as child bearing but both men and women have to carry the burden of care work during the day and hence the need to engender the caring role.

She reiterated that women tend to be generally fixed to their household and the excessive responsibility of caring for everyone in the family and community places an invisible barrier/glass wall that limits their meaningful participation in social, economic and political activities. She emphasised the need for everyone to care.

Cde Damasane further pointed out that it is unfortunate that care work has been long considered the natural responsibility of women and the girl child hence there was need to change our perceptions and attitudes and share the tasks evenly according to capacity at family level. She also emphasised the need to ensure that women have time and labour saving equipment which can go a long way towards relieving the intensity of care task such as fuel efficient stoves, improved access to water and solar energy.

The Deputy Minster further pointed out that the four pillars of Zim-Asset namely Food Security and Nutrition, Social Services and Poverty Reduction, Infrastructure and Utilities and Value Addition and Beneficiation cannot be fully achieved without redressing the issue of unequal care work evenly and getting everyone involved in care work.

Through the We Care Programme, Oxfam aims to bring about change in care work using the four R’s, that is: Increasing the Recognition of care; Reduce the drudgery of care work; Redistribute responsibility for care more equitably between women and men and between households and also facilitate the Representation of carers in decision making.

During the 68th General Assembly the Head of UN Women pointed out that it was time to place value on unpaid work carried out by women. This is out of the realisation that women provide the most housework, child and elderly care, constraining their own ability to participate in education and formal sectors of the work force.

Due to the increased burden of care work, women have remained trapped in poverty ensuring women access to decent work is therefore fundamental in eradicating poverty. The numerous child care centres and elderly people’s homes in the country have never reduced the burden of care work as most women and families cannot afford the fees especially in rural areas where the majority of women live. Widows and single mothers are worst hit by poverty and it was imperative to invest more in agriculture.

According to Oxfam, in order to reduce the time spent by women collecting and fetching firewood and water it advocates for the installation of water tanks, distribution of water collection and storage containers, provision of wheelbarrows to use during water collection and fetching firewood, community dialogues and engaging men and boys in care work. Apart from that Oxfam aims at training caregivers on how to make energy saving stoves and lobbying other stakeholders to provide services and infrastructure that reduce the burden of care work.

Unpaid care work is a major human rights issue yet unpaid work often goes unrecognised even in policy formulation when addressing that would benefit millions of women. In developing regions up to 95 percent of women employment is informal and in jobs that are unprotected by labour laws and lack social protection. This is worsened by the fact that women are still underrepresented in economic and political leadership and this limits their decision making roles in issues that affect them.

Even where both partners have paid jobs, women often spend significantly more time on household chores and caring work that their male counterparts. This is the position due to traditional gender roles that have been accepted by society over time. Labour market constraints also play a role in determining who does the bulk of unpaid work. It has been noted that worldwide that the girl child spends more time assisting the mother in household chores more than the boy child.

There are also health related issues associated to the double burden of care work. One study revealed that there are physical, emotional and psychological differences between men and women faced with the double burden of care work. It was found that women who are raising children and are in the workforce were more prone to anxiety and depression than men. Parenting is a large task on its own and when a parent has a career it can cause a double burden. Seventy-five percent of all women who have jobs are in their childbearing prime and it is important for the husband or partner to help in the raising of the children.

Some other countries like Norway have longer maternity leave. In Norway women are allowed 10 months maternity leave and they get 100 percent of their salary or 12 months leave where they are paid 80 percent of their salary. In Zimbabwe maternity leave is 3 months.


Vaidah Mashangwa, Provincial Development Officer Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development. She can be contacted on 0772 111 592 or email: [email protected]

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