Most of women’s contribution to the world economy are unaccounted for, in the form of unpaid care work for 3.26 billion hours a day. This includes fetching firewood and water, putting meals on table for the family, and looking after children, as found by a report by UK-based NGO Oxfam.
According to Oxfam’s report Time to Care, the economic system is based on sexist values that burden women with unpaid care work and limits their economic prosperity by fuelling gender gaps in employment and wages. The report stated that all the 2153 billionaires - mostly men - together own more wealth than 4.6 billion people.
In India, disregarding the women workforce is evident in government initiatives as well.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare set up the National Rural Health Mission in 2005 to provide better healthcare access to rural population. Hundreds of thousands of accredited social health activists (ASHAs) were trained to form the backbone of India’s rural health system, imparting basic health education and services to poor communities and helping them access health facilities. But the Oxfam report states that despite their crucial role, the workers are considered to be volunteers by the government and receive an incentive-based stipend rather than regular pay.
Reema Nanavaty, Executive Director of trade union Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) which has over 1.9 million women members, says, “It is a well-known fact that despite being the backbone of informal workers’ families, the poorest of poor in the world are women workers.” She asserts that care work should be considered as skilled work and paid at par with other skilled work.
The report indicates that 80 percent of the estimated 67 million domestic workers worldwide are women. While women living in poverty spend significantly more time on unpaid care work, those belonging to India and other developing countries like Uganda, Zimbabwe, the Philippines, and Kenya face an average of 40 minutes more every day or over a year longer during their lifetime.
Besides deepening economic inequality, it also undermines the health and well-being of the predominantly female care workers, often hindering their social and political participation as well, the report stated.
Towards a feminist economy
The report also urges for bold policy decisions that seeks to benefit all citizens (the 99 percent) instead of just the wealthy elites (the top one percent who is more than four times wealthier than 70 percent of the poorest).
One can also carry out the principles of the ‘4Rs’ framework. This begins with recognising unpaid and underpaid care work for its real production value. This is followed by reducing unpaid care work and redistributing such work among family members so that it does not fall on female members of the family. Finally, governments should have the caregivers represented in their policies.