Let's meet two "typical"
|Consider Tendai, a young
girl in the Lowveld, in Zimbabwe. Her day starts at 4
a.m. when, to fetch water, she carriers a thirty litre
tin to a borehole about eleven kilometres from her home.
She walks barefoot and is home by 9 a.m. She eats a little
and proceeds to fetch firewood until midday. She cleans
the utensils from the family's morning meal and sits preparing
a lunch of sadza for the family. After lunch and the cleaning
of the dishes, she wanders in the hot sun until early
evening, fetching wild vegetables for supper before making
the evening trip for water. Her day ends at 9 p.m., after
she has prepared supper and put her younger brothers and
sisters to sleep. Tendai is considered unproductive, unoccupied,
and economically inactive. According to the international
economic system, Tendai does not work and is not part
of the labour force.
- Marilyn Waring
|Cathy, a young, middle-class
North American housewife, spends her days preparing food,
setting the table, serving meals, clearing food and dishes
from the table, washing dishes, dressing her children,
disciplining children, taking the children to day-care
or school, disposing of garbage, dusting, gathering clothes
for washing, doing the laundry, going to the gas station
and the supermarket, repairing household items, ironing,
keeping an eye on or playing with the children, making
beds, paying bills, caring for pets and plants, putting
away toys, books, and clothes, sewing or mending or knitting,
talking with door-to-door salespeople, answering the telephone,
vacuuming, sweeping and washing floors, cutting the grass,
weeding and shovelling snow, cleaning the bathroom and
the kitchen, and putting her children to bed. Cathy has
to face that fact that she fills her time in a totally
unproductive manner. She
is economically inactive,
and economists record her as unoccupied.
- Marilyn Waring
unpaid work that Tendai and Cathy perform for their households
and families is absolutely necessary for the functioning of
the rest of society. Indeed our monetary economy is dependant
on women's reproductive and care-giving work for the health,
well-being and indeed the very existence of the paid work
force. The economy also relies heavily on women to pick up
the slack which the paid economy ignores - nursing elderly
people, tutoring, child care, and supporting new immigrants.
Unpaid work is as much a part of the monetary economy as paid
work. Yet precisely because it is unpaid, unpaid work has
long been overlooked and undermined in economic equations.
Sometimes we ourselves even forget that unpaid work is actually
work. (See Julie's Story.)
Work is something you have to do - it's
drudgery, not pleasure.
Work is what happens during the work
day from 9 am to 5 pm.
Society holds to certain assumptions
about what constitutes 'work.' For example:
Work is work when you're paid to do it.
Work is what happens outside the home.
Many of these assumptions about
what work is do not fit with the reality of women's lives.
Much of women's work is not structured into workdays but
instead intermingled with socializing and play. Many women
do many things simultaneously and sometimes have trouble
naming which is work and which isn't as not all the work
is drudgery. Some work, like playing with children, breastfeeding
a baby, or tending a garden, can actually be quite enjoyable.
As well, much of women's work happens inside the home and
much of it is unpaid.
Statistics Canada divides unpaid work into three categories:
house and yard work, care of children, and care and assistance to
seniors. Volunteer work with community or charity organizations
is not included. While this definition is limited, it is
a significant first step in measuring and recognizing women's
Because women's unpaid work has
no dollar value attached to it, it took many years for governments
to even measure the hours dedicated to unpaid work. Because
of this, much of women's activities were not taken into
account in the development of laws and policies. This omission
exacerbated existing inequalities. Measuring unpaid work
was one of the major challenges to governments that came
out of the UN Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi
in 1985 as well as the UN
Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
for Action that developed out of Beijing calls for national
and international statistical organizations to measure unpaid
work and reflect its value in satellite accounts to the
In Canada, the 1996 Census was the first to collect data
on unpaid work, marking a major breakthrough for feminists
across the country and providing an example for other countries
around the world. What do the statistics tell us? Women
and men in Canada have similar total workloads but men spend
most of their time, 4.5 hours a day, in paid work and 2.7
hours in unpaid work. For women, the statistics are reversed
with 2.8 hours in paid work and 4.4 hours in unpaid work.2
Statistics Canada, after the 2006 census, reported that on average, “Women spend about an hour a day more on basic housework chores than their male counterparts. In 2005, women aged 25 to 54 averaged 2.4 hours daily cooking, cleaning and doing other basic unpaid household chores, compared with 1.4 hours per day for men in this age range.” Women perform 2/3 of the 25 billion hours of unpaid work
Canadians perform every year3
and on average women spend twice as much time (2/3) on unpaid
work as on paid work (1/3). To see the statistics for women
and men in Manitoba visit Unpaid
Work in Manitoba.
In the summer of 2010, Stephen Harper cut the mandatory long form census all together and proposed it be replaced by the $30 million dollar voluntary National Household Survey. Question 33, or the long fought for question about unpaid work, was removed from the NHS. Many organizations and individuals in Canada are vocal about their opposition to the scrapping of the long form census and are providing analysis of it’s importance nationally and globally. To read updates about the status about the long form census and the groups supporting it’s reinstatement, see datalibre.ca or Save the Census.
Globally many countries are adopting
time-use surveys to measure unpaid work. Japan, Australia,
Mali, Morocco, South Africa, Indonesia, India, Philippines,
Palestine, Cuba, Ecuador, and many European countries have
designed or undertaken surveys while many other countries
have expressed interest.4
For more on measuring unpaid work visit Alternative
Economic Measures and Valuing
The lack of remuneration for much
of women's work has a direct relationship to women's economic
security. When women are spending their time on unpaid work,
they are not doing paid work. Because only the latter is
remunerated, women's earning potential decreases dramatically.
The lack of recognition of unpaid work is a chief contributor
to women's higher rates of poverty in Canada and around
Because unpaid work is unpaid, many women must try to fit
in paid work around it creating increasingly stressful lives.
One Canadian study showed that 38% of working mothers are
severely time stressed, averaging 74 hours of paid and unpaid
work each week.5
The situation for single mothers is particularly difficult
as they are unable to rely on another partner to bring in
an income. UNPAC's sister organization, the Brandon Women's
Centre, published a report called "No Time Left
for Me: A Reality Check on the Impact of Government Policy
on Women's Caregiving Work" highlighting the experiences
of single moms.
Because most unpaid work takes place in the home, women
who do primarily unpaid work can be isolated and at greater
risk of physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse. Women
who do many hours of caregiving work each week need support
and need people who will in turn care for them.
Despite the drawbacks, for many
women unpaid work is both tremendously rewarding and satisfying.
Taking time to raise one's own children is an experience
many women do not want to pass up. For many women, unpaid
caregiving work gives them an opportunity to directly experience
the results of their labour; the love of their family is
more satisfying than money. Many women are frustrated at
not being able to afford to take care of their families
in a way that feels right to them. (See Caring
for Children for more.)
Volunteering does not officially
fit into Statistics Canada's definition of unpaid work.
However, volunteering is another vital unpaid contribution
women make to their communities as well as to the economy.
In Canada women make up 54% of the volunteer sector.6
Volunteer work is varied and extensive and includes caring
for neighbours, forming community groups and institutions,
advocacy, helping out in political campaigns, working with
people in or leaving prison, agriculture work, community
gardens, international aid, assisting in cross-cultural
dialogue, working in shelters, providing child care, producing
theatre and arts, fund-raising, volunteering at schools
and hospitals, preparing and serving food, assisting new
immigrants, counselling, and providing employment services,
health care, and education. Much of the volunteer work women
do is income-generating in itself, such as theatre or other
Women's work is adjusting to the
demands and affects of economic globalization. To read about
some recent trends in women's paid and unpaid work stemming
from globalization visit Globalization
and Women's Work.
& Paid Work
Women & Unpaid Work
you spend your time?