1. Overview

This chapter points to some of the conditions that persistently place a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work on women. It presents the case for correcting the imbalance with regard to women’s economic empowerment and details international commitments such as Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 5.4, which proposes tackling the problem on four policy fronts: public services, infrastructure, social protection policies and shared responsibility within the household. Lines of action to be taken are introduced through “the 3Rs approach” – recognise, redistribute and reduce unpaid care work. The chapter concludes with acknowledgement that women are not a homogeneous group but face intersecting inequalities that may restrict their ability to benefit from certain policy and programme interventions. Thus, the relative priority accorded the different policy domains and specific measures within them will necessarily depend on the particular context.


Unpaid care work, gender inequality and the barriers to women’s economic empowerment

Unpaid care and domestic work

Unpaid care and domestic work refers to non-market, unpaid work carried out in households (by women primarily, but also to varying degrees by girls, men and boys) which includes both direct care (of persons) and indirect care (such as cooking, cleaning, fetching water and fuel, etc.) These activities are recognised as work, but typically not included in the System of National Accounts or – in the case of activities like fetching water/fuel – are theoretically included but often not well documented or accounted for (Folbre, 2018[1]). As highlighted in Sustainable Development Goal Target 5.4, investments in social protection, public service provision and infrastructure and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household can reduce and redistribute these tasks, by, for example, reducing the amount of time women spend collecting water or providing alternatives for child care. In this report, unpaid care work will be used to refer to unpaid care and domestic work.

For women’s equal access to paid work to facilitate sustainable development – without jeopardising human well-being – it has to be based on a comprehensive strategy that includes recognition of the critical importance of unpaid care work, reduction of the drudgery associated with this work to increase its productivity and free up time, and redistribution of the work between women and men within families and between families and other institutions providing care (UN Women, 2018[2]).

In all societies, women still carry out a greater share of unpaid care work responsibilities (Figure 1.1). Globally, women carry out 76% of the total amount of this work, over three times more than men (ILO, 2018[3]). Women’s unequal share of unpaid care work has long been recognised by women’s rights advocates as a key dimension of gender inequality; it is now increasingly recognised in mainstream economic policy discussions as a constraint to both economic growth and women’s economic empowerment (Folbre, 2018[1]; United Nations, 2016[4]; World Bank, 2012[5]).

Yet gender disparities in unpaid care work remain both stark and resistant to change. Whereas there has been significant growth in female labour force participation in recent decades, there has been little progress in changing the distribution of unpaid work. During the last three decades, the gap between women’s and men’s contributions to unpaid care work narrowed by only seven minutes per day (ILO, 2018[3]). As a result, women continue to work longer hours than men do overall.

Technological progress and infrastructure development have helped to reduce time spent on unpaid domestic work (also referred to as indirect care) such as cooking and cleaning, particularly in developed countries. At the same time, care needs are growing as population’s age – globally, but particularly in higher and middle-income countries. In parallel, childcare needs and care needs for disabled persons and persons with HIV/AIDS are a challenge in low-income and developing countries and poorer households. Unpaid care work is largely carried out by women through providing caregiving to those in need, with wide variations among countries and regions in both the absolute amount of time women spend on caregiving and the gender gap. Further, caregiving of any kind is more difficult and time-consuming in low-income settings, where proper equipment is lacking and food is scarce.

Figure 1.1. Regional gender gaps in unpaid care work
Figure 1.1. Regional gender gaps in unpaid care work

Note: This graph shows regional gender gaps in time devoted in unpaid care work.

Source: OECD (2019[6]), Gender Institutions and Development Database (GID-DB), https://stats.oecd.org/.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933948416

Unpaid care work: A barrier to women’s economic empowerment

Unpaid care work remains a key constraint on women’s participation in activities outside the household, including paid work (Razavi, 2007[7]), and a driver of women’s disadvantage in the labour market (Ferrant, Pesando and Nowacka, 2014[8]; Folbre, 2018[1]; World Bank, 2012[5]). The challenge is particularly great in developing regions because of more limited access to basic infrastructure and public services, the more arduous nature of the work, and the lesser extent to which men carry out unpaid care work (as Figure 1.1 shows).

Addressing gender inequality in unpaid care work is thus a priority in working toward women’s economic empowerment. Women are better able to participate in the labour market – and labour market outcomes are more equitable – where working-time arrangements are more flexible, childcare is subsidised, and paid parental leave for both men and women is available (Ferrant, Pesando and Nowacka, 2014[8]; Folbre, 2018[1]; ILO, 2018[3]). Analysis has shown that in the Nordic countries, which have the most comprehensive policies in this regard, there is greater gender equality in employment participation and outcomes (OECD, 2018[9]; UN Women, 2015[10]).

On the other hand, in many developing countries where the informal labour market is the main source of employment for women (and men), social protection such as parental leave provision is limited or not offered. Public care services are limited in availability and quality, and entrenched social norms make it difficult for women to combine paid and unpaid work, or to participate in paid economic activities on the same terms as men. Instead, many women may opt for part-time, informal work that is more easily combined with their unpaid care responsibilities. Alternatively, they are completely excluded from paid work (ILO, 2018[3]; UN Women, 2015[10]).

Where infrastructure and technology is less developed, high levels of often heavy unpaid care work may cause many women to suffer depletion of energy as well as injuries, disabilities and other physical or mental harm (Butt et al., 2018[11]). Recent work in the United Republic of Tanzania (“Tanzania”), Nepal, India and Rwanda has shown that the combination of constant paid and unpaid care domestic work (often heavily physical) saps physical as well as mental capacities, leaving little or no time for personal care, hygiene or leisure: the “lack of time often meant too little sleep, chronic fatigue, and mental stress … most women reported an overwhelming sense of tiredness, as they struggled to maintain their lives and livelihoods” (Chopra and Zambelli, 2017, p. 34[12]).

On the other hand, as a country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increases, infrastructure is likely to improve and access to services increase decreasing the time women spend on domestic and care tasks, such as cooking or traveling to health centres (see Figure 1.2). For example, in Bangladesh, where the GDP per capita is USD 1 156, women allocate 56% of their time to unpaid care work when awake, compared to 40% in Peru and 33% in South Africa where the GDP per capita is USD 6 572 and USD 6 161 respectively (World Bank, 2017[13]). As a result, women in South Africa and Peru have more time for paid work and study as well as leisure and personal care (Ferrant and Thim, 2019[14]).

While time spent in unpaid care work decreases as a country’s GDP increases, the gender gap in unpaid care work remains. Globally, the gender gap in time spent in unpaid care work has declined by only seven minutes between 1997 and 2002, despite economic growth. The ILO estimates that at this rate, it will take 210 years for to close the gender gap in unpaid care work (ILO, 2018[15]). The reduction in the gender gap is driven largely by a reduction in unpaid care work for women (Figure 1.2). On the other hand, men’s share of unpaid care work increases only slightly even as GDP increases. This suggests that as GDP increases, a reduction in the physically and time-intensive tasks of unpaid care work (such as collecting water or fuel) can be observed for (mainly) women, but this does not lead automatically to a more equitable distribution among household members (Ferrant, Pesando and Nowacka, 2014[8]).

Figure 1.2. Gender gaps in unpaid care work by income groups
Figure 1.2. Gender gaps in unpaid care work by income groups

Note: This graph shows gender gaps in time devoted in unpaid care work by income group. For a definition of income groups see http://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/world-development-indicators.

Source: OECD (2019[6]), Gender Institutions and Development Database (GID-DB), https://stats.oecd.org/.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933948435

Box 1.1. The OECD Policy Dialogue on Women’s Economic Empowerment: Understanding “what works” to address unpaid care work

The OECD Policy Dialogue on Women’s Economic Empowerment was launched to support countries’ efforts to achieve women’s economic empowerment and the SDG gender commitments. The Policy Dialogue initiative is co-ordinated jointly by the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, the Development Centre and Statistics Directorate, bringing together their unique expertise and networks. The initiative aims to identify policy and programme solutions to promote women’s economic empowerment, including by recognising, reducing and redistributing women’s unpaid care work. The initiative focuses on producing new analysis and policy recommendations to address unpaid care work combined with inclusive dialogues at the regional and global levels.

A first meeting of the Policy Dialogue held in January 2018 at the OECD headquarters in Paris brought together a diverse community of over 150 stakeholders – government representatives, members of the OECD Development Centre and the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Network on Gender equality (GENDERNET), researchers, and members of civil society and the private and philanthropic sectors. The event was an opportunity to share experiences, discuss challenges and identify knowledge gaps on unpaid care work. Discussions highlighted the need for both qualitative and quantitative data and evidence to inform context-specific interventions.

In November 2018, a Latin American and Caribbean regional Policy Dialogue meeting was organised in Montevideo, Uruguay, jointly with UN Women and the government of Uruguay.

Note: For more information: https://www.oecd.org/development/womens-economic-empowerment.htm.

The importance of addressing the burden of unpaid care work in order to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment is recognised in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 through adoption of Target 5.4: “Recognise and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate”. The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment, established in September 2015, went further and highlighted the need to recognise, reduce and redistribute (“3Rs”) unpaid care work as one of seven key drivers of women’s economic empowerment (United Nations, 2017[16]) (UN, 2017b[17]). The 3Rs (Elson, 2017[18]) have been widely adopted by women’s rights advocates as the framework for policies to address unpaid care and work (Figure 1.3).

Figure 1.3. The 3Rs approach: Three interconnected dimensions to address unpaid care work
Figure 1.3. The 3Rs approach: Three interconnected dimensions to address unpaid care work

The International Labour Organization (ILO, 2018[3]) has recently proposed an extension of the 3Rs framework to “5Rs”, to address decent work for paid care workers, including Reward for care workers and their Representation in social dialogue with employers and the state. Changes in household structure and ageing populations – coupled with the reduction in budgets for healthcare and social care in many countries – have led to the development of global “care chains” through which care services are transferred from poorer to richer countries, usually via female migrant labour. These in turn create “care drains”: women leave their families to provide low-paid care work to others, shifting their own care responsibilities onto other family members (grandparents or older children) (Folbre, 2006[19]). This report does not address in detail the specific issues facing paid care workers, whose poor working conditions, particularly those of domestic workers, are well documented (see ILO, 2018 for an in-depth look at the care economy, (ILO, 2018[3]).

These recent commitments build on the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which recognises the importance of tackling the unequal distribution of paid and unpaid work between men and women as an essential step towards achieving gender equality. There is also a range of legally binding obligations enshrined in the international human rights system and labour standards (see Box 1.2).

Box 1.2. Unpaid care work in international human rights commitments

The international human rights framework establishes the right to care for vulnerable groups and their caregivers, such as children and persons with disabilities, in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006). These Conventions stipulate the responsibility of both parents for care of children, as well as that of governments to provide support for disabled persons and their families and caregivers. In addition, from a rights-based framework, women’s unequal responsibility for unpaid care work can undermine their possibilities to enjoy a range of other human rights, including those in:

  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW – 1979), which establishes the framework for substantive equality between men and women. Among other things, the framework includes the responsibility of both parents to bring up children and the requirement of states to provide social services that enable parents to combine family with work and public life.

  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR – 1981), which guarantees women the right to work on an equal basis with men (Article 6) and equal rights at work (Article 7).

  • These obligations under the international human rights framework are complemented by labour standards set out in a variety of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions, such as:

  • Convention No. 156 (1983) on workers with family responsibilities, which aims to provide equal opportunities to women and men who have dependants;

  • Convention No. 183 (2000) on maternity protection, which aims to ensure proper protection, maternity leave and benefits to women workers;

  • Convention No. 189 (2011) concerning decent work for domestic workers.

Compliance with all these obligations is essential to remove gender inequalities and discrimination, and recognise and redistribute unpaid care work. At the same time, failure of governments to address women’s disproportionate unpaid care workload can be understood as non-compliance with their international legally binding obligations regarding equality and non-discrimination. Indeed, the 2013 report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, “Unpaid care work and women's human rights”, argued that women’s “heavy and unequal” care responsibilities were a violation of human rights, as they make it impossible for women to enjoy their rights on an equal basis to men – including rights to political participation, education, leisure, and livelihoods.

Source: (United Nations, 2017[16]) “How to recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care and work”, (United Nations, 2013[20]), Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx.

The economic case for addressing gender inequality in unpaid care work

Unpaid care work contributes to the maintenance and development of human capabilities, generating important benefits for recipients and society as a whole (Folbre, 2018[1]).

The economic imperative to address unpaid care work

Unpaid care work is a human rights issue; it is also an economic development issue. Investing in care can contribute to long-term economic development, through contributing to the quality of human resources and the development of human capabilities (Folbre, 2018[1]; UN Women, 2015[10]) as well as creating sustainable, high-quality jobs (ILO, 2018[3]; ITUC, 2016[21]).

Indeed, unpaid care work provides, and produces, a huge amount of goods and services, for human development, health, education and sanitation. The ILO estimates unpaid care work to be around USD 11 trillion, or 9%, of global GDP (ILO, 2018[3]). In some countries, unpaid care work may represent an even greater share of GDP – for example, 14% in South Africa and Canada; 23% in Argentina, France and New Zealand; and 33% in People’s Republic of China (“China”) (Figure 1.5) (Ferrant and Thim, 2019[14]). However, in all countries, women are responsible for the largest share of unpaid care work.

Figure 1.4. Unpaid care work's contribution to GDP in OECD countries
Figure 1.4. Unpaid care work's contribution to GDP in OECD countries

Note: This graph presents unpaid care work’s contribution to GDP, as percentage of GDP. The method used is based on replacement cost. Data on time use are based on the latest available time use surveys: Canada (2015); France (2009-10); Germany (2012-13); Italy (2013-14); Japan (2016); United Kingdom (2014-15); and United States (2016). Data refer to the population aged 10 and over for Germany and Japan; to the population aged 11 and over for France, Italy, and the United Kingdom; and to the population aged 15 and over for Canada and the United States.

Note: For more information see van de Ven, P., J. Zwijnenburg and M. De Queljoe (2018[22]), “Including unpaid household activities: An estimate of its impact on macro-economic indicators in the G7 economies and the way forward”.

Source: OECD (2019[23]) Time Use Database: http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=TIME_USE; gross domestic product: http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=SNA_TABLE1; Taxing Wages: http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=AW COU.

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933948454

Gender inequality in unpaid care work excludes large numbers of women from the labour market. The ILO (2018[3]) estimates that 606 million women, or 41% of those currently inactive, are outside the labour market because of their unpaid care responsibilities. This exclusion has an impact on economic growth and development. According to Ferrant, Pesando and Nowacka (2014[8]), women’s unequal share of unpaid work negatively affects not only their level of participation in the labour force, but also the quality of jobs they access, contributing to gender wage gaps. They point out that this in part explains why the reduction in gender gaps in education has not translated into better outcomes for women in labour markets in countries where unpaid care continues to be distributed unequally between women and men. At the same time, using cross-country data, the authors show that decreases in women’s time in unpaid work correlate with increases in their labour force participation. Further, the OECD (2018[9]) has shown that closing gender gaps in labour force participation can contribute to economic growth.

Nevertheless, governments are often reluctant to dedicate funding to addressing care needs, seeing these as social expenditures and not as investments with positive returns. Evidence from countries as diverse as Kenya, Brazil, China, Guatemala and Mexico has shown that subsidising or providing access to public childcare provision leads to increases in female labour force participation (Clark et al., 2017[24]; Folbre, 2018[1]). In turn, this can create ‘fiscal space’ from increased taxation revenues, for governments to reinvest in social provision or other developmental priorities (Ilkkaracan, Kaya and Kim, 2015[25]; Ortiz, Cummins and Karunanethy, 2017[26]). Investing in care provisions can also create quality jobs in sectors that are accessible to women further promoting women’s economic empowerment (Ilkkaracan, Kaya and Kim, 2015[25]; ITUC, 2016[21]; UN Women, 2015[10]). For employers, lack of care services has been linked to higher turnover and absenteeism, lower productivity, and difficulty recruiting skilled employees (IFC, 2017[27]).

Measuring unpaid care work

Time use data is an indispensable tool to design policies and programmes that empower women and men to spend their time in more fulfilling and productive ways, such as paid work or study, quality time with their families, participating in their communities or resting. Time use surveys and modules, the main statistical tools to measure time-use, provide a window into women and men’s allocation of time to different tasks. Data is collected through stylised questions or time-use diaries typically covering 24 hours of a day or 7 days of a week. The scope and quality of time-use data differs significantly from one survey or module to the next making comparability across countries difficult. While some time-use surveys and modules are nationally representative, others may be more limited in scope, for example, only capturing rural or urban areas. The range and classification of activities covered as well as the level of detail varies between surveys (e.g. whether a time-use diary captures 15 minute or 30 minute time slots).

Another conceptual concern when collecting time use data is how to capture and measure simultaneous activities or multi-tasking. While some surveys allow respondents to report both primary and secondary activities, secondary activities are not consistently reported or analysed. This is especially important when measuring women’s time use as their time spent on paid and unpaid tasks often overlap. Research conducted by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) in India, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania found that women multi-task over 11 hours on average throughout the day combining child care with different household tasks such as cleaning and cooking and paid work (Chopra and Zambelli, 2017[12]). Despite the importance of capturing multi-tasking to capture the intensity of how women’s time is spent, there is no international standard on how to measure simultaneous activities.

Globally, time use data remains limited, in particular for developing countries, due to the significant costs and capacities needed to undertake a time use survey. Reporting on SDG Target 5.4 requires regularly collected time-use data disaggregated by sex, age group and location. However, to date, only 83 countries have ever conducted time-use surveys, and only 24% of those were conducted after 2010 (UN Women, 2018[28]). Of the 47 least developed countries, only 8 have collected time-use data. The OECD Time Use database aims to improve comparability between OECD countries. The OECD time-use database includes information on the average time spent per day in different activities for 28 OECD member countries and 3 emerging economies (China, India and South Africa).1

Gender gaps in time-use: Evidence from Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and South Africa

Analysis of time-use data for Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Peru and South Africa confirm what previous analysis of time use data revealed: men spend more time in paid work or study than women do, while women undertake the bulk of unpaid care work (Ferrant and Thim, 2019[14]). In Ethiopia, for example, men spend almost twice as long on paid work or study than women, while the opposite is true for unpaid care work. Overall, women spend over an hour longer on unpaid and paid work combined than men – the “double burden” – leaving them with less time for personal care (including sleeping) and leisure. Similar to OECD countries, women have around 40 to 50 minutes less leisure time than men do in all countries, with the exception of Bangladesh (Ferrant and Thim, 2019[14]).

Gender gaps in unpaid care work begin at an early age for girls and boys, increasing for women at marriage and childbirth. For men, however, marriage may actually decrease their time spent on unpaid care work. Married men spend less time on routine housework than single men do, if all other factors stay the same (e.g. number of children, location, age).While education is essential for women and their children to live healthy and productive lives, it is not a silver bullet for helping alleviate the unpaid care work burden. Primary school education does not have a significant impact on the time women spend on routine housework, and, in some cases, is associated with an increase. Only women with higher education are likely to see a decrease in routine housework, due to increasing income and opportunities to substitute these responsibilities with market services (Figure 1.5) (Ferrant and Thim, 2019[14]).

Figure 1.5. Predicted values of women’s time-use in routine housework by education levels
Figure 1.5. Predicted values of women’s time-use in routine housework by education levels

Source: Peru (2010) Encuesta Nacional de Uso del Tiempo 2010; South Africa (2010), Survey of Time Use

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933948473

Priority policy areas for addressing gender inequality in unpaid care work

SDG 5.4 highlights four priority policy areas in addressing unpaid care work: public services, infrastructure, social protection and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family (Figure 1.6) (UN, 2015a[29]). Depending on how policies and programmes within these areas are designed and interact, women’s and men’s options can be broadened, or they can confine women “to traditional roles associated with femininity and motherhood” (Razavi, 2007[7]).

Figure 1.6. The Four Policy Domains of SDG Target 5.4
Figure 1.6. The Four Policy Domains of SDG Target 5.4

Social protection and public services are key policy domains that shape how direct caring work (care of persons) is distributed within households as well as among households, states and the market, through direct provision and regulation of care services; financial transfers to households to support their caring work; and family-friendly policies. These policies also affect the distribution of care across generations. Public provision of or subsidies to care services can reduce the amount of time that household members (particularly women and girls) spend looking after dependents and free up time for them to engage in paid work or other activities.

Investments in infrastructure that address the drudgery of domestic work more directly have the potential to increase the productivity of such work, and reduce the time and physical effort women (and others) spend on domestic chores.

Shared responsibility within the household is relevant to both direct caring and domestic work in that it changes the social norms that shape gendered roles and responsibilities. However, interventions in other policy areas – such as the availability and structure of paternity leave, the length of maternity leave, monetary transfers to caregivers and the design of income taxation – can also create incentives for the behavioural change of redistributing gender roles within households and contribute to changing wider norms. Similarly, increased access to infrastructure and investments in labour-saving technologies can incentivise a redistribution of household work from women to men. For instance, evidence shows that when collecting water requires walking long distances, men are less involved than when collection is closer to the consumption area (household).

While all four areas are critical to addressing the 3Rs and achieving SDG 5.4, the relative priority accorded the different policy domains and specific measures within them depends on the context. Gender inequality in the division of unpaid care work is universal but more pronounced in developing countries (ILO, 2016[30]), a testament to more conducive conditions in higher income countries for recognising, reducing and redistributing such work. Thus the expansion of universal public services, especially healthcare and childcare, and investments in infrastructure may be of more immediate relevance to reducing the unpaid care work of (especially rural) women in poorer countries than indirect incentives for redistribution through social policy or taxation (ILO, 2017, p. 38[31]; UN Women, 2015[10]). At the same time, women are not a homogeneous group; they face intersecting inequalities that may restrict their ability to benefit from policy and programme interventions. For example, women in the informal economy may not be able to benefit from employment related policies, such as parental leave or pensions, and rural women may prioritise water and energy services over childcare.

Similarly, the drivers for addressing unpaid care work may differ according to context. In high and some middle-income countries, especially in Latin America, higher rates of formal female labour market participation and ageing populations have been pushing this issue onto the policy agenda. In sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV/AIDS crisis underscored the need to support families and communities in their provision of care, and the role of older people in this context (United Nations, 2013[20]). Younger populations in this region signal a need to invest in the development of human resources through quality care, to realise the potential benefits of the “youth dividend”. Overall, however, few governments adequately prioritise policies to address women’s unequal share of unpaid care work, or invest sufficiently in care services and jobs, particularly in the face growing care deficits (ILO, 2018[3]).

Policy recommendations

This section sets out policy recommendations for development partners, including donors and governments, and areas for further research. The recommendations are based on the research and analysis undertaken for this policy paper.

Design development policies and programmes that work for women and address unpaid care work

Donors and governments can:

  • Incorporate the reduction of women’s unpaid care work as an objective from the outset of the programme cycle, notably by adding pertinent questions to front-end and ongoing assessments. While this may not be relevant for all projects, making unpaid care a programme objective ensures that, at a minimum, interventions are not exacerbating women’s unpaid care work burden and, whenever possible, they integrate ways to address it. This will entail incorporating the recognition of unpaid care work in monitoring and evaluation strategies, thus further strengthening the currently very limited evidence base. For example, Helvetas, ActionAid and Oxfam have found targeting unpaid care work to have positive results in both reduction and redistribution, which monitored the results from the beginning (see Chapters 3 and 4).

  • Ensure that policies and programmes reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care work and include elements that aim to transform negative masculinities at different levels. Within communities, examples include creating spaces for men and boys to discuss gender stereotypes. At the institutional level, public and private organisations can learn from the successful experiences of CSOs to engage men as fathers/carers, including through local governments and health and other public sector services (e.g. education) to promote men in care roles as both employees and users (see for example Promundo and FEMNET’s experiences in Chapter 3).

  • Guarantee appropriate safeguarding measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse in all investments. Policy and programming should pursue a no-harm approach to beneficiaries and local populations. Appropriate reporting mechanisms, awareness-raising campaigns, and victim and survivor services should be provided and accompanied with adequate co-ordination mechanisms with local actors.

In addition, governments can:

  • Make care a priority in their economic policymaking and budget setting (see for example Uruguay’s National Integrated Care System in Chapter 5). This could include for example, dedicating specific budget lines to strengthening and expanding the types of public services or programmes that significantly relieve households’ unpaid care workload, incorporating awareness-raising elements of the contribution of carers, and co-ordinating across government sectors to build on potential synergies and ensure that the needs of carers are addressed (for example with education and health ministries).

Increase awareness raising and advocacy for greater recognition and redistribution of unpaid care work

Awareness raising, advocacy, and training related to women’s unpaid care work are important elements to support implementation of policies and programmes in this area. That includes stronger awareness of the responsibility of governments and employers to address unpaid care work and the contribution of unpaid carers to human and economic development.

Donors and governments should consider the following:

  • Awareness-raising and media campaigns to increase understanding of unpaid care work and gender stereotypes more generally. These can be incorporated into existing campaigns, e.g. health campaigns highlighting hazards of traditional cooking methods or education on the use of new technology. The private sector and the media can be key partners in these efforts. For example, Unilever has collaborated with Oxfam to reduce women’s time dedicated to laundry by combining investments in infrastructure with a communications programme involving radio, TV and social media campaigns.

  • Training for service providers and other relevant actors to increase their understanding of unpaid care work and ways to support unpaid carers, and to promote men’s involvement in care giving and domestic tasks. In Brazil, Promundo trains healthcare providers to encourage men’s involvement at the critical time just before and after childbirth (see Chapter 3). Childcare providers and teachers can also inadvertently reinforce gender stereotypes related to care work.

  • Engaging with local or national leaders, celebrities or artists to become gender equality champions. In Kenya, the NGO Femnet has found working with men and local champions for gender equality at the community level to be one of the most effective ways of transforming negative social norms (see Chapter 3).

Develop social protection programmes that support caretakers

There are opportunities to design social protection programmes that support those who need care and avoid exacerbating existing care burdens or penalising women as caregivers. Possible solutions for donors and governments, depending on the context, include:

  • Unconditional cash transfers that avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes and potentially creating additional care-related burdens for women. As shown by the experiences in Kenya and Brazil in Chapter 5, conditional cash transfers can reinforce existing gender roles that place the largest share of care on women and, in certain cases, increase women’s time devoted to care ( see Box 4.4 for more information on the experience in Kenya).

  • Free, quality childcare provision in all public works programmes, infrastructure projects and other relevant programmes. This could be on-site or located in the community, depending on the local context and safety concerns of women and their families about travelling with children (see box 4.2 to learn more about experiences in South Africa and India to provide childcare in public works programmes).

Governments should also consider:

  • Expanding contributory credits linked to pensions and other programmes to all caregivers (female and male) to compensate for contributions “lost” during periods out of the labour force to provide care (see Chapter 4 on the Housewife Policy in Brazil, and Box 4.5 on additional experiences in Latin America).

  • Including access to care services as part of universal health and social insurance packages (particularly maternity benefits and long-term care).

  • Making paternity leave non-transferable and including incentives to encourage men’s take-up. Chapter 5 provides more information on the difficulties of increasing men’s use of paternity and parental leave as well as potential solutions, including close collaboration with the private sector and media campaigns.

  • Ensuring that private sector mandated childcare provision is supported by tax incentives and is not linked to the number of female employees, possibly discouraging the hiring of women.

Undertake relevant programme analysis, monitoring, evaluation and data collection to better understand the impacts on women’s unpaid care work

Investments in infrastructure, social protection and public services should be informed by better collection and analysis of national or regional time use data, alongside data that capture information about access and use at the household and individual level.

Donors can:

  • Support gender assessments or diagnostics that consider the impact of infrastructure, social protection and public service investments on women and girls’ unpaid care work, as well as potential negative impacts on wider gender-related constraints. Rapid care analysis, time use diaries and community consultations can inform programme design and evaluation, as Oxfam and ActionAid have done in Kenya and Nepal (see Chapter 3). This can also encourage redistribution of care responsibilities to men by raising awareness among community members of women and girls’ care burden. Assessments and monitoring should also ensure that the unpaid care work burden is not transferred to other women in the household, in particular older women and girls.

  • Support national statistical offices to undertake regular collection of sex disaggregated data collection and analysis, specifically time use data and data related to social norms. This can include:

    • The measurement of social norm change at different levels to gain better qualitative understanding of national and local contexts, interests and policy discourses

    • Monitoring time poverty outcomes of infrastructure investments, including the links between infrastructure and technology for women in different settings such as urban and rural areas

    • Monitoring social protection programmes to understand both who is contributing and benefiting and the impact on unpaid care work at the household level.

Governments can:

  • Prioritise gender data collection. This should include the harmonisation and extension of national-level time use data (and analysis of these data) to better understand and monitor changes in men and women’s unpaid care work and their links with policies and programmes.

Engage with a diversity of actors for greater reach and more sustainable funding

Involving a variety of actors in programme design and implementation is key to understanding the local context and designing fit-for-purpose policy and programme solutions. Multi-stakeholder initiatives can also allow for wider impact, greater financial sustainability, and national and local ownership.

Governments and donors can:

  • Ensure that women and women’s rights organisations are represented throughout the programme cycle, and that their representation continues afterward. Development practitioners should work with local actors and women’s rights organisations to engage with women and men concerning investment decisions and programme design.

    • Donors can increase support to women’s rights organisations through quality and long-term funding. Informants across the three focus countries mentioned the crucial role of women’s rights organisations in getting unpaid care work onto the policy agenda, for example in Uruguay (see Box 4.1) and in Brazil (see Box 4.5)

    • Community consultations and participatory learning approaches can ensure that women and men’s needs are adequately addressed. Furthermore, this can have positive spill over effects for other empowerment areas, by challenging existing gender stereotypes and encouraging women to take on greater decision-making authority, as was done in by Helvetas in Nepal (see Chapter 4). In addition, donors should consider elements that will encourage women’s ongoing participation in governance and decision making, through training and skills building for example.

In addition, governments can:

  • Better co-ordinate “care” approaches across different government sectors – including education, health, social protection, employment and fiscal policy – through integrating an understanding of appropriate measures to reduce and redistribute unpaid care, and providing support via cross-governmental networks or innovation funds (see Chapter 5 on Kenya’s cash transfer programme). For example, encouraging take-up of labour-saving technology, such as clean cook stoves, could involve ministries in charge of gender equality, health, education and the environment.

Work with the private sector to provide services and technologies and transform social norms related to paid and unpaid care for women and men

Governments and the private sector can work together to:

  • Develop working environments conducive to family responsibilities, as Promundo is doing in Brazil (see Chapters 3). This includes policies for effective provisions for carer leave, including paternity leave, and access to childcare or other relevant care services as a way to reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care work and contribute to quality job creation. Employers also have a role to play in encouraging men to take on a greater share of unpaid care work and supporting employees with caregiving responsibilities.

  • Ensure the affordability of market-based solutions to infrastructure and care services where relevant. Multi-stakeholder partnerships can lead to innovative solutions that both increase the reach of care services and infrastructure to underserved groups, and improve the quality of existing informal services. Local governments, social impact investors and private sector employers are important potential partners in this area. Chapter 6 goes into more depth on the public and private sector actors working together in Nairobi, Kenya to meet the early childcare development needs of women and their families.

  • Close gender gaps in employment in infrastructure sectors and provide training and awareness raising for men and women to encourage the design of more gender-sensitive investments.

  • Provide quality childcare to all employees, working with the government to ensure standards and regulations are met.

  • Design services and products for women and carers – including labour-saving technologies, transportation services, insurance plans, online platforms for paid and unpaid carers, and other digital tools that support the reduction or redistribution of unpaid care work.

  • Support women (and men) in their use of labour-saving and other technologies through training or education, to make sure they have the skills to benefit from and promote demand for improved technology, including mobile and Internet services (see Chapter 4). This may also require ensuring that gender norms do not discourage women and girls (or men and boys) from using new and existing technology, and closing gaps in availability of digital goods, services and capital.

Invest in research and data to further strengthen the development community’s understanding of what works to address unpaid care work

This report aims to contribute to the existing evidence on how donors, governments and development practitioners are working to recognise, reduce and redistribute women’s unpaid care work. Nevertheless, the paper identified several knowledge gaps that will require further research.

Donors can:

  • Support further research on men’s engagement in care, to understand how wider social norms on masculinities constrain their engagement and may even cause women to push back against their involvement. This research should also look at the potential role of new technologies or services – and the ways they are designed and marketed – to incentivise men’s engagement in unpaid care, thus redistributing care between men and women (and generations) within and outside households.

  • Invest in innovative policy and programme tools to incorporate strategies to recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work. For example, checklists and diagnostic tools could ensure unpaid care work concerns are considered from the outset of the programme cycle.

Researchers can:

  • Explore new data collection methods to capture women’s time use and unpaid care work burden as well as systematic approaches to capturing, monitoring and reporting social norms change as part of wider programming. This could entail methods for measuring the drudgery related to domestic work tasks, such as collecting water, fuel and food.

  • Further explore promising care models, including financing models (for example cross-subsidisation by private sector providers; subsidised provision through co-operatives) and successful adaptations of childcare services that have increased take-up and/or access for marginalised groups (e.g. informal sector workers; disabled carers/children).


[11] Butt, A. et al. (2018), Exploring the need for gender-equitable fiscal policies for a human economy: Evidence from Uganda and Zimbabwe.

[12] Chopra, D. and E. Zambelli (2017), No time to rest: Women’s lived experiences of balancing paid work and unpaid care work.

[24] Clark, S. et al. (2017), Can subsidized early child care promote women’s employment? Evidence from a slum settlement in Africa, International Development Research Centre.

[18] Elson, D. (2017), Recognize, reduce and redistribute unpaid care work: How to close the gender gap, pp. 52-61.

[8] Ferrant, G., L. Pesando and K. Nowacka (2014), Upaid care work: The missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labor outcomes, https://www.oecd.org/dev/development-gender/Unpaid_care_work.pdf.

[14] Ferrant, G. and A. Thim (2019), Measuing women’s economic empowerment: Time use data and gender inequality.

[1] Folbre, N. (2018), Developing care: Recent research on the care economy and economic development.

[19] Folbre, N. (2006), “Measuring Care, Gender Empowerment and the Care Economy”, Journal of Human Development, Vol. 7/No. 2 July.

[27] IFC (2017), Tackling Childcare: The Business Case for Employer-Supported Childcare, International Finance Corporation..

[25] Ilkkaracan, I., K. Kaya and K. Kim (2015), “The impact of public investment in social care services on employment, gender equality, and poverty: The Turkish case”, , Women’s Studies Center in Science, Engineering and Technology and the Levy Institute of Bard College.

[15] ILO (2018), “Executive Summary” in Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work, International Labour Organization, http://www.ilo.org/global/publications/books/WCMS_633135/lang--en/index.htm (accessed on  December 2018).

[3] ILO (2018), Care work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work.

[31] ILO (2017), World Social Protection Report 2017-19: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, International Labour Office.

[30] ILO (2016), Women at Work: Trends 2016, International Labor Office.

[21] ITUC (2016), Investing in the Care Economy: A Gender Analysis of Employment Stimulus in Seven OECD Countries, International Trade Union Confederation, http://www.ituc-csi.org/investing-in-the-care-economy (accessed on 30 November 2018).

[6] OECD (2019), Gender Institutions and Development Database (GID-DB), http://oecd.stat.org.

[23] OECD (2019), OECD Time Use Database, http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=TIME_USE.

[9] OECD (2018), Is the Last Mile the Longest? Economic Gains from Gender Equality in Nordic Countries, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264300040-en.

[26] Ortiz, I., M. Cummins and K. Karunanethy (2017), Fiscal space for social protection and the SDGs options to expand social investments in 187 countries, International Labour Office, UN Women and The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

[7] Razavi, S. (2007), “The political and social economy of care in a development context: Conceptual issues, research questions and policy options”,, United Nations Research Institute for Social Development.

[17] UN (2017b), “Leave no one behind: Acting for transformational change on women’s economic empowerment”.

[29] UN (2015a), “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”, A/RES/70/1, https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld.

[2] UN Women (2018), Turning Promises into Action: gender equality in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

[28] UN Women (2018), Turning Promises into Action: Gender Equality in the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development.

[10] UN Women (2015), Progress of the World’s Women 2015: Transforming Economies, Realizing Rights.

[16] United Nations (2017), “How to recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care and work”.

[4] United Nations (2016), Leaving no one behind: A call to action on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

[20] United Nations (2013), “Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights (Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona) to the UN General Assembly,” A/68/293, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Poverty/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx.

[22] van de Ven, P., J. Zwijnenburg and M. De Queljoe (2018), “Including unpaid household activities: An estimate of its impact on macro-economic indicators in the G7 economies and the way forward”, OECD Statistics Working Papers, No. 2018/4, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://dx.doi.org/10.1787/bc9d30dc-en.

[13] World Bank (2017), GDP (current US$), https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/ny.gdp.mktp.cd (accessed on  2019).

[5] World Bank (2012), Gender Equality and Development.


← 1. The OECD time-use database includes information on the average time spent per day in different activities for 28 OECD member countries and 3 emerging economies (China, India and South Africa). The database is updated annually, on International Women’s Day, and its estimates are sourced from national time-use surveys, based on nationally representative samples of between 4 000 and 20 000 people. To improve the comparison of time use data across countries, the samples in the OECD time-use database are restricted to populations aged 15-64, and activities are aggregated into five main categories: (1) Unpaid work; (2) Paid work or study; (3) Personal care; (4) Leisure; and (5) Other time use. For each of the categories only primary activities are taken into account, while simultaneous or secondary activities are excluded to improve comparability across countries. A top-level overview of the data is available and live at http://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?datasetcode=TIME_USE, while the full database can be accessed at: http://www.oecd.org/gender/data/OECD_1564_TUSupdatePortal.xlsx.

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