Balancing care work and paid work: strategies and outcomes

The research documented a ‘bi-directional relationship’ between paid work and unpaid care work: not only did women’s care work impact their paid work opportunities and engagement, but, conversely, paid work impacted the extent, timing, and nature of women’s unpaid care activities. The following quote illustrates this relationship:

I’m unable to clean the house—instead of [cleaning] I quickly cook the food and run to the famr, ordering my daughter to do a few tasks at home.

Sometimes I [arrive] late to bring water. There are times when I can’t clean my house or wash my [three] children’s clothes. Either I am able to finish all the chores and unable to start the work at [the] farm, or if I finish the farm work, my house becomes messy.

(Rukmini Bk, Mehenlada, Nepal)

Women in all four study countries found that childcare and household tasks were the most difficult to combine with paid work, as shown in Figure 8.9. Nearly one- third of all women in the study reported that they left their household tasks undone in order to engage in paid work, while another third reported going to work without lining up childcare if necessary (Chopra and Zambelli 2017: 29). Activities such as unpaid agriculture activities (e.g. tending of their own farm) and collecting fuel and water were also difficult to undertake alongside paid work, but less so according to the research.

Strategies for balancing care work and paid work

To balance their dual workloads women employed several types of strategies. Some women reported getting up extremely early or staying up late, just to get everything done—a concept that our team titled “time stretching” (Chopra and Zambelli 2017: 31).

Sometimes I have to go collect grass, I have to broom and clean the house, I have to cook food, I have to wake up at 4am, and ... a few days ago I went to

Activities that are problematic to combine with work Source

FIGURE 8.9 Activities that are problematic to combine with work Source: IDS GrOW data, author’s depiction collect grass taking my child with me because there was no one to look after her at home. And I do that while going to collect the firewood as well. I can only leave her if there is someone to take care of [her], I cannot just go to work leaving my child home.

(Menuka Dhital, Depalgaon, Nepal (cited in Clwpra et al. 2020: 28))

Other women became adept at multitasking in order to accomplish both their paid work and unpaid care responsibilities, sometimes simultaneously. Not only did women multi-task during their waking hours, they also regularly had their sleep interrupted by the need to perform care-related tasks. On average, women respondents from the four study countries were found to be multi-tasking around 11 hours each day. Table 8.1 shows the average number of hours per day that women spent multitasking in each country.

Other strategies that women used to combine paid work and childcare, which were previously discussed, included the intergenerational transfer of care responsibilities to daughters, leaving children with relatives or home alone, and taking children to work with them. The fact that childcare responsibilities do not decrease, irrespective of the type and amount of paid work that women undertake, explains why women respondents expressed a preference for wanting to work closer to home or at home and in jobs that allow them the flexibility to look after their children at the same time (Chopia and Zambelli 2017: 36). This preference was especially strong for women with younger children. In the absence of any other options, “... if the child is very small, then we carry the child in our hands and then go to work” (woman in Udaipur, India).

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