Unpaid care work: dynamics and patterns Gendered divisions of labour
The most important aspect of the social organisation of care across the 16 research sites was that women always undertook the bulk of the responsibility for providing unpaid care work in their households, including childcare, household work, ancillary tasks, and animal care. Interestingly, we found that while men helped more than we had initially assumed, their participation was sporadic and often perfonned in response to the absence of any female in the household. Figure 8.1 below shows the large extent of the feminisation of care responsibilities in the study communities.
Figures 8.2 through 8.5 show the distribution of the different care tasks by country, and the pattern of women’s disproportionate responsibility for unpaid care work holds true for most. Women were largely responsible for childcare in their households, although, in nearly a third (28%) of the families surveyed, men were also involved, which could reflect the flexibility of social norms around this activity. Household work was, however, perfonned largely by women. In India, as much as 89% of women took on household work without help. While the sharing of household work between men and women was most common in Nepal, this was still skewed mostly in favour of female respondents bearing this responsibility. As one woman from Depalgaon in Nepal said, “Ever)’thing has to be taken by the women—housework is personal to her”. Two-thirds of all women (including female respondents and other female family members) surveyed across all 16 research sites were responsible for the collection of fuel and water for their families.
FIGURE 8.1 Social organisation of all unpaid care work across countries (%) Source: IDS GrOW data, author’s depiction
FIGURE 8.2 Social organisation of household work by country (%) Source: IDS GrOW data, author’s depiction
FIGURE 8.3 Social organisation of childcare by country (%) Source: IDS GrOW data, author’s depiction
Animal care was the most equitably distributed of all the care tasks, with men’s sole responsibility in animal care being greater than any of their other care responsibilities. As Chopra and Zambelli (2017) have reflected, this perhaps reflects
FIGURE 8.4 Social organisation of ancillary tasks (collecting water, fuel, and wood) by country (%)
Source: IDS GrOW data, author’s depiction
FIGURE 8.5 Social organisation of animal care by country (%) Source: IDS GrOW data, author’s depiction the importance of the care of livestock as an income-generating task and hence considered part of men’s domain of responsibility as the breadwinner.
Study results suggest that some care activities were squarely within women’s domain of work, and for these activities there were deeply entrenched gender nonns and expectations at play. For example, in Nepal, only married women were allowed to carry baskets on their back—these baskets being used for collection of firewood and fodder for animals.2 Participants from Nepal and India commented on the strict gendered division of labour around this task:
[SJowing and carrying woven baskets should not/cannot be done by men (dokos).
(Boy in Depalgaon, Nepal)
Only women bring water, and the men in the family do not go [to bring water]. And [boys] go only if they wish ... [my] daughter-in-law and my daughters now take care of everything.
(Indumati Khair, Udaipur, India)
Household structures were found to impact the social organisation of care. In extended households, the amount of unpaid care work was greater but also shared across a larger number of female family members. We also found that across the study countries, support from neighbours and community members was minimal. This was mainly because the low incomes and subsequent financial pressures experienced by most households in the study communities left little or no resources to help others. In some cases, if children were left home alone while their parents worked, neighbours would stop by periodically to see if they were alright.
The study documented a high incidence of intergenerational transfer of care to children. Over 22% of women reported that their older children undertook care work more than two to three times per week. There was also a gendered division of labour between girls and boys—with girls taking on more responsibilities within the house, such as childcare and housework like cooking and cleaning, while boys were more involved in shopping and caring for animals. However, this distribution of tasks was less rigid among children compared to adults (as similarly reported by Fontana and Natali 2008: 11). While the gendered division of labour between men and women was found to be flexible during lifecycle changes such as pregnancy and post-natal care, it always reverted to previous patterns once the child was born. A male respondent from Mehelkuna in Nepal expressed this well when he claimed to “do it all when the women cannot”, adding that, “generally women have more responsibilities in domestic tasks”.
Interestingly, in Rwanda, the involvement of boys was most prevalent in the collection of water and fuel (Chopra and Zambelli 2017: 20), which was not the case in other countries. This trend was accompanied by a recognition of the ill-effects on boys of performing ancillary tasks:
My son gets tired too since he combines school and unpaid work at home. It is so tiresome, and he does not get enough time to play with friends due to some duties assigned to him by me and at some point this affects his performance at school.
(Denise Nishimwe, Rwanda (died in Chopra and Zamhelli 2017: 20))
In other countries too, standard gender divisions of labour were found to be flexible amongst children. In India, we documented instances of boys helping mothers to cook and clean. In Nepal, we found that boys who did not have elder sisters at home contributed more to care-related tasks than those who did. As a mother of two boys explained:
Both my sons help me. They know that their parents cannot work. I cany' the manure and they do it too. They go to school in the afternoon. After returning from school one of the sons help to carry and the other makes food. And I rest near the stove. Whenever I can, I make the food but when I am unwell they make it.
(Katnla Giri, Jumla, Nepal)
Despite the rare cases where gendered divisions of labour were ignored for specific purposes, what was most significant is the effect that the largely feminised responsibility of care had on women and girls. In fact, care tasks were considered as the main barrier for women to rest and were often very physically demanding to perform.