DESA News Vol. 13, No. 03 March 2009


Division of unpaid and paid work: a source of inequalityDivision of unpaid and paid work: a source of inequality

Research has shown that when paid work and unpaid work, including household and care work, are combined, women spend noticeably longer hours working than men.

Both women and men undertake paid and unpaid work. This work is unevenly distributed across all countries with women doing more unpaid care work than men and men doing more paid work.

Unpaid work includes activities as diverse as working in a family business, farming or performing household tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, and caring for family members. In many parts of the world, household work also involves collecting water and firewood. Care work in the household encompasses more than childrearing; it comprises care of all other family members, including the elderly, persons with disabilities and the sick, including people living with HIV/AIDS and with other chronic or terminal diseases that require special or personalized attention.

Most of the household and care work is done by women in all parts of the world, regardless of their socio-economic and employment status. As a result of this dual workload, women work longer hours than men, and have less time for sleep, education, leisure and participation in public life. As a consequence, women are more likely to be concentrated in low paid jobs marked by occupational segregation, and many may engage in informal and/or temporary or part-time work with lower or no access to social security benefits.

Unpaid work activities, even when measured through time-use surveys, are rarely taken into account in calculations of the gross domestic product (GDP). The System of National Accounts, which sets international standards for GDP measurement, includes contributions to family businesses but excludes household services such as cooking, cleaning, care-giving and volunteer work. While some countries measure and value such activities in “satellite accounts,” unpaid work most commonly remains unrecognized.

Yet, estimates show that the value of unpaid work can be equivalent to half a country’s GDP. In New Zealand, unpaid work carried out in 2001 was valued at NZD$40 billion, of which women contributed 64 per cent. Researchers have argued that women’s unpaid, unmeasured and unrecognized care work is a crucial contribution to the wellbeing of societies and to economic and social development.

The gender-based division of labour and undervaluing of care-work in the household have been replicated in the public sphere. Women are over-represented in the paid care-sector, in both developing and developed countries. Although the wages and working conditions of paid care workers vary across employment categories and skill levels, many care workers receive lower wages than workers with comparable skills levels in non-care related occupations. In recent years, there has been an increase in the migration of women caregivers across regions and countries, including as domestic workers, nannies and nurses. Most of these women migrant workers lack basic rights, social protection and job security.

Stereotypes about “ideal” women and men occupations

The stereotypical views that women are ideal or “natural” caregivers and men are ideal breadwinners lead employers to distrust women’s ability to fully commit to their jobs and careers. At the same time, men at work are often denied the time and flexibility needed to be involved in family and care-giving responsibilities and thus, tend to be considered deficient caregivers.

The assumption that women have an endless supply of time and energy for caregiving work results in insufficient development of childcare and health care facilities. Almost half of the countries in the world have no formal programmes for children under three, and service coverage is usually limited in countries that have such programmes in place. Moreover, cutbacks in public expenditures have led to a weakening of essential social services in many countries. The lack of reliable, accessible and affordable services, such as childcare thus exacerbates the care-giving burden placed on women. The current financial crisis threatens to worsen this situation.

HIV/AIDS: a care crisis

The HIV/AIDS pandemic has brought greater urgency to the issue of caregiving. It has also drawn attention to both the importance of care work and the weaknesses and insufficiencies of public policies and institutions to address the care needs created by the disease.

Over 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS. In low and middle-income countries, nearly ten millions are in immediate need of treatment and intensive and long-term care but only three millions are receiving the treatment and care they require.

In many developing countries, particularly those in which HIV/AIDS is highly prevalent, home-based care is replacing public facilities and clinics as the primary place of care. Lack of medical staff, combined with failing health systems and inadequate resource allocations, has meant that home-based care-givers subsidize many aspects of care provision. Home-based care providers, whether family members or volunteers, often work with little or no training, limited support and without basic equipment to safely perform their tasks.

It has been estimated that women and girls provide up to 90 per cent of the HIV/AIDS-related home-based care. This affects women of all ages: grandmothers take care of their adult children and raise their grandchildren when the parents cannot. In Southern Africa, research has shown that two-thirds of primary caregivers were women, and a quarter of these were over 60 years old.

In the context of HIV/AIDS, provision of care has thus become a major source of inequality. Studies show that the economic pressures resulting from increased care work and foregone opportunities for paid work can lead to greater food insecurity in the household and to sexual risk-taking by caregivers – which in turn, may cause new HIV infections, abuse and violence against women. In countries where women lack property and inheritance rights, households headed by women and girls are particularly vulnerable.

Financial burdens for households are also high, including the loss of earnings when a caregiver stays at home, as well as costs related to the purchase of medicines, transportation to clinics, user fees for health services and rising food costs. The high financial costs of caregiving often lead to debt. In Thailand, almost half of parents who were primary caregivers of someone living with AIDS borrowed money and many never expected to get out of debt.

Multi-sectoral responses

The unequal sharing of responsibilities between women and men has implications for a range of policy areas, including health, social welfare, family, education and labour market. A long-term transformation of individual attitudes and institutional arrangements is needed. This requires constitutional and legal provisions on family, marriage, divorce, inheritance, property rights and employment that guarantee the equality of women and men, and efforts to ensure their full enforcement.

At the same time, measures need to be taken to reduce the existing workload of women. Increased investments in well-functioning and accessible public health and social services and in infrastructure development for access to water, sanitation and energy can greatly contribute to easing the pressure on women and girls.

Governments have also taken a range of policy initiatives to reduce the burden of unpaid work, particularly caregiving, and assist both women and men to combine their work and family responsibilities. Responses have included leave provisions (maternity, paternity and parental leave), cash benefits, support for care services and facilities run by Government agencies, the private sector or not-for-profit organizations. Flexible work arrangements include reduction of the maximum number of legal working hours, flexibility of work time and location and possibility to take part-time work.

At the United Nations, there is understanding that supporting staff in their family responsibilities will positively affect their productivity. The Secretariat offers maternity leave, and started providing specific entitlements to paternity leave in 2005. Flexible work arrangements include staggered working hours, compressed work time and tele-commuting.

Policy responses, however, have not always been explicitly driven by the objective of reducing the unequal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, and have often been linked to other issues, such as the needs to increase economic efficiency and encourage women’s labour market participation, to address the expanded care needs of an ageing population or to deal with declining fertility rates. Some policies have inadvertently exacerbated stereotypes and inequalities. For example, policies on parental leave, childcare facilities and work-life balance that only target women are based on the assumption that women have sole responsibilities for care and fail to recognize the responsibilities of men.

Increased involvement of men

Across regions men are becoming more engaged in efforts to promote gender equality and more equal sharing of responsibilities at household level. In the Latin American region, for example, NGOs have done important work on engaging young men and rethinking the socialization of boys. Instituto Promundo in Brazil developed Program H to encourage men to reflect on stereotypes of masculinity.

In Zimbabwe, a project supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by Africare, trained 120 men aged 20 to 65 to be volunteer caregivers for people living with HIV/AIDS. The involvement of male caregivers has helped challenge traditional notions of masculinity; and supported men living with HIV/AIDS to overcome the stigma of the disease and seek support.

Through innovative policy measures, awareness raising initiatives and enhanced attention to work-life balance issues, more men are getting involved in the care and upbringing of their children. In 2007, Germany introduced two additional ‘partner months’ to its parental leave provisions. As a result, the number of fathers who took the opportunity to get involved in childcare in the first few months of their children’s lives increased from less than 4 per cent in 2006 to 20 per cent in the second quarter of 2008.

The Commission on the Status of Women – moving forward

The United Nations Commission on the Status of Women will consider “The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care-giving in the context of HIV/AIDS” as the priority theme during its 53rd session, which will take place from 2-13 March 2009 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

This provides an important opportunity to discuss the causes and consequences of the unequal division of labour between women and men in domestic and care-giving work, and to promote greater understanding and valuing of the contribution of care work to the wellbeing of societies and the functioning of economies.

Reducing the unequal distribution of domestic and care work between women and men is necessary but not sufficient to address the growing challenges of care-giving in society. As the HIV/AIDS pandemic has illustrated, all stakeholders – the State, private sector, civil society - must assume the responsibility for care-giving. This requires policies on social protection and work arrangements, as well as investments in public services and infrastructures that alleviate time burdens and the social costs borne by care-givers.

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Making every person countMaking every person count

The strength of the world population must come not from its number but from what each person can achieve

In the 1960s, the world population experienced unprecedented fast growth. The annual population growth rate was then in the order of 2.0 per cent, which led many observers to fear that the world could be at the brink of a population explosion.

The rapid growth of population, especially in less developed countries, imposes increasing demands on existing resources, and constrains the allocation of economic resources for basic human necessities, including human capital investments in education and health care.

Year 2000 then saw the Millennium Summit, where world leaders adopted eight goals, known as the “Millennium Development Goals” (MDGs) and 189 Member States pledged to significantly help the world’s poorest countries by 2015. Back in 1994, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) had also adopted a 20-year Programme of Action.

Recent data, presented in the new Report of the Secretary-General on “World population monitoring, focusing on the contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development to the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals” confirms that the world’s poorest countries continue to have very high fertility and population growth rates. The combination of high fertility and poverty tends to perpetuate itself, as it leads to limited education, poor health and gender inequalities for the next generations, feeding back to rapid population growth.

While it is simpler to point out the problems than achieve solutions, the United Nations stresses that tackling population and development concerns entails empowering people – particularly women – with better education, good health, including reproductive health, and decent work to enhance the population’s overall well-being.

Much progress has been made in the past 20 years along the lines of improved reproductive health care, raising education, income levels and improving the status of women, all of which are related to the decline in birth rates and death rates. However, more needs to be accomplished if the world is to reach the goals of ICPD 1994 and the development targets set in the MDGs.

The ICPD and its Programme of Action established a milestone in the history of population and development, as well as in the history of women’s rights, when it emphasized actions based on fundamental human rights and principles. The conference also highlighted the empowerment of women as an essential step towards eradicating poverty and stabilizing population growth.

In line with the MDGs, goals of the ICPD Programme of Action include sustained economic growth in the context of sustainable development, education (especially for girls), gender equity and equality, infant, child and maternal mortality reduction, and the provision of universal access to reproductive health services, including family planning and sexual health.

These goals were built upon considerable international consensus that has developed since the World Population Conference in Bucharest in 1974, and the International Conference on Population in Mexico, in 1984. The ICPD of 1994 in particular took a broader view of development issues which reflected the growing awareness that population, poverty, patterns of production and consumption and the environment are so closely interconnected that they cannot be considered in isolation.

With only six years to go before the target date of the MDGs, the 42nd session of the Commission on Population and Development, which will take place from 30 March to 3 April, will further this discussion and intensify efforts by the international community in this front. The Commission will focus on the theme of “The contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development to the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals”, as it bears in mind human wellbeing, sustainable development and sustained economic growth.

Education for all, including boys and girls

Education deserves particular attention in development objectives for its capacity to promote sustainable development, improvement in the quality of the working population and the realization of genuine democracy. The direct benefits of education to the well-being of a whole society are considerable – it reduces fertility, morbidity and mortality rates and empowers women.

While significant progress has been made in achieving universal primary education, rapid population growth continues to hinder the fulfillment of educational needs. The 2009 Report of the Secretary-General on “World population monitoring, focusing on the contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development to the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals” highlights that countries with the worse education indicators were found to have high proportions of children and high population growth rates.

The Report further states, “Sustained high fertility results in rapidly increasing numbers of school-age children, which translate into increasing demands on education systems and families.”

Education certainly has to offer something more than just teach children how to read and write or how to do arithmetic. Young people need quality education which teaches them to recognize traditional values and prepares them for career development and professional life. Their education must also include population issues, gender sensitivity and equality, reproductive choices and responsibilities and sexually transmitted diseases.

It is important to note how both the Programme of Action and MDGs draw attention to “education for all, including boys and girls”. This underscores the right of women and the girl child to education. Seventy-five per cent of illiterate persons in the world are women, and continued lack of education, among other factors, perpetuates a cycle of violence and abuse where women exercise little control over family, economic, social and even reproductive choices.

The Programme of Action stressed that increasing the education of women and girls contributes to the empowerment of women, providing them with the knowledge and skills necessary to fully participate in the development process. Education also postpones the age of marriage and reduces the size of families.

Women who are better educated are more likely to use contraception and have fewer children. More importantly, they could also take better care themselves, especially in terms of their reproductive health, and of their children. Hence, the survival rate as well as the health of both women and children increases.

Satisfying health needs

As with education, health, particularly reproductive health, is essential to human development and is also an indispensable tool in improving quality of life. Yet, the challenges in health today are manifold.

The continuing prevalence of HIV/AIDS threatens populations, most significantly that of sub-Saharan Africa. Some countries, on the other hand, face the dangers of malaria. The pervasiveness of these diseases means less spending on reproductive health and family planning, leaving an estimated 106 married women in developing countries with an unmet need for family planning.

Meeting the need for family planning is crucial as closely spaced births and pregnancies in adolescent and older women put children at increased risk of death. Just as importantly, education in and access to family planning contributes as well to the reduction of maternal mortality, improvement of maternal health, promotion of gender equality, prevention of HIV/AIDS and the reduction of poverty.

Despite the urgency of seeing through the success of these health goals, the full benefits of family planning have yet to be realized. Funding has not kept pace with increasing demand. In fact, between 1996 and 2005, per capita donor assistance devoted to family planning dropped in most regions.

A stronger, more dynamic population

While there is traditionally strength in numbers, it is the living conditions of the population and the opportunities they have that actually determine their level of development. Knowledge and good health provide basic stepping stones for economic and social progress, lifting the population out of poverty, hunger and disease.

The ICPD Programme of Action emphasizes the linkages between demographic trends and development and human rights. Full implementation of the Programme of Action can therefore make a significant contribution to development, a realization of basic human and social rights and the attainment of the MDGs – for both the current generations and beyond.

Based on the Report of the Secretary-General on “World population monitoring, focusing on the contribution of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development to the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals” and the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development.

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Role of philanthropy in preventing deaths from child birth, tropical diseases

Role of philanthropy in preventing deaths from child birth, tropical diseases

The role of philanthropists and philanthropic organizations is crucial in tackling some avoidable health threats which kill millions of vulnerable people every year, stresses Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of Special Event on Philanthropy and the Global Public Health Agenda on 24 February. “Health is a foundation for prosperity, stability and poverty reduction,” said Mr. Ban.

Video: (5 minutes)
Full coverage:
Statement of Mr. Ban: