Impacts of combining paid work with unpaid care

Regardless of which strategies they employed, women respondents struggled to balance their responsibilities for paid work and unpaid care, leaving them no time to rest or recuperate. As a result, women frequently reported feeling physically exhausted, drained, and anxious, unable to balance everything on their plate:

The entire week I have to work, how do I explain my tension to you? Should I wake up at four o’clock or five o’clock? Should I do this work or that? My brain just doesn’t function!

(Sangeetha Sohan Datura, Dungarpur, India)

TABLE 8.1 Number of hours women spent multitasking






When awake






Interrupted while sleeping






In total (whether awake or asleep)






Source: IDS GrOW data, author’s depiction

[BJecause there are times when I delay in the plantations and that means I am going to prepare lunch late, and washing my children’s uniforms will also be late, but I can try to do whatever I had to do. In other words, everything becomes disorganized and I end up getting tired and exhausted although I fail to finish them all.

(Mama Juliet, Korogwe, Tanzania)

It’s complicated because you have to do both at the same time and with the school-going children. You have to work here and there but it’s difficult and you may end up declining in the business.

(Mama Joy, home-based worker in Korogwe, Tanzania)

Children also reported mixed feelings about their mother’s paid work having seen them regularly overworked and sleep deprived:

[My mother] does a lot of work.... I know that working is good but she over works so I would like her to get some rest after her work. But again, she needs to do the digging so that we have food. So, I don’t know [if her paid work is good or not].

  • (Justine’s five-year-old daughter, Lnshoto, Tanzania (cited in Zambelli et al. 2017a:
    • 25))

Across all four countries, it was found that women did not get enough sleep to feel rested the following day. In some cases, it seemed that women got a healthy amount of sleep each night in terms of total hours, but upon closer look it became clear that much of this sleep was interrupted and intermittent. The likelihood of women sleeping for several hours without waking up to perfbnn paid or unpaid work was low, particularly in Rwanda and Tanzania (as shown in Figure 8.10). Further, women who have young children are always ‘on call’ to perfonn childcare work—signifying, as Chopra and Zambelli have labelled, “the absence of complete rest” (2017: 31).

Women’s overlapping paid work and unpaid care responsibilities also ate into the time they had to spend on personal care, hygiene, and leisure. Over time, women became physically, emotionally, and mentally depleted. Many reported injuries including back pain and headaches, and illnesses including vision problems and even lung disease. In addition, women felt near-constant anxiety from worrying about their ability to support their families economically, or, conversely, feeling guilty and worried about their families while at work. It was an impossible situation for these women.

Women also reported concerns about transferring their unpaid care work to their daughters, yet feeling helpless about the situation since they needed to continue with their paid work to earn income for survival. As one woman painfully explained:

I have lots of work but very little time. I get tom between work and baby’s care is not managed well.... Yes, they [daughters] have been forced to grow

Women’s hours of sleep per night Source

FIGURE 8.10 Women’s hours of sleep per night Source: IDS GrOW data, author’s depiction

up. I yell at them. At this age, they are supposed to be put in our laps, fed by us, but they clean themselves up, change their clothes, and go on their own because I am busy. Hence, if you consider the age of my daughter, she should be carried and taken to her bus, that is the service I should provide them, but I beat them up instead. I am burdened by the work; I get angry and end up beating them.

(Mafati BK, Melientada, Nepal)

Children in turn felt the negative effects of women’s double burden—both in terms of taking on the role of care provider (which impacted their education and time use), and in terms of experiencing lower quality and quantity of care themselves. Children who shadowed their mothers at paid work were often exposed to hazardous environments, and some were removed from school. Children also reported feeling lonely, sad, or angry at being left alone at home. One boy expressed feeling angry when he had to cook rati [bread], while another said he is unable to study when his mother goes away (Zaidi et al. 2017: 18).

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