Removing the Cloak of Invisibility. Integrating Unpaid Household Services in the Philippines' Economic Accounts

Solita Collas-Monsod

One of the conclusions at Casablanca was that unless women’s contributions to the economy are recognized and accepted, women will continue to be second-class citizens, with all the negative implications of this. And nobody but women can be relied on to push for that recognition and acceptance.

UN Schizophrenia and the Invisible Woman

The United Nations (UN) system is at the forefront of efforts to achieve gender equality, the elimination of discrimination against women, and gender mainstreaming. The system includes the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which had its 54th session in 2010; the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), which had its 47th session in 2010; the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) in the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA); as well as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), International Research and Training Institute for the Advancement of Women (INSTRAW), United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), and International Labour Organization (ILO), among others.[1]

The UN designated a decade for women (1976-1985) and organized four world conferences on women. The first of these, in 1975, recognized the need to measure and value women’s unpaid work. Ten years later, at the third, the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) endorsed a package of strategies, with a recommendation that the value of household goods and services be included in countries’ GNP:

The remunerated and, in particular, the unremunerated contributions of women to all aspects and sectors of development should be recognized, and appropriate efforts should be made to measure and reflect these contributions in national accounts and economic statistics and in the gross national product. Concrete steps should be taken to quantify the unremunerated contribution of women to agriculture, food production, reproduction and household activities. (United Nations, 1985, paragraph 120)

There are also eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the third of which aims to “promote gender equality and empower women.” The MDGs are a road map for implementing the Millennium Declaration, agreed by 189 governments at the September 2000 UN Millennium Summit in New York. The Declaration commits governments “to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development that is truly sustainable” (UN, 2000). Most recently, on July 2, 2010, the General Assembly voted unanimously to create a new entity—to be known as UN Women—to accelerate progress in meeting the needs of women and girls worldwide.

Yet, all these efforts are being undermined in another part of the UN system: the Statistics Division (also part of UNDESA) and its System of National Accounts (SNA), which gives the guidelines and procedures for estimating a country’s GDP and national income. Introduced in 1947, this national accounting system was “based essentially on the model of an advanced industrial economy in which transactions in money are dominant” (Bos, 2005, p. 202).

Since then four major revisions have taken place (1953, 1968, 1993, and 2008), but there is one constant according to Bos: “they all exclude unpaid household services, do-it-yourself activities, voluntary work and the services of consumer durables. These types of production are ignored despite the existence of paid counterparts that are counted as production” (ibid., p. 203).

Thus have the majority of the economic contributions of women in households been rendered invisible by a statistical cloak provided by the

SNA. This is supremely ironic given that the word “economics” is derived from the Greek word “oikonomia” meaning “the management of family and household.” The efforts of the Dr Jekylls in the UN system have been negated by the Mr Hydes in the same schizophrenic system. What follows is an examination of the narrow, inadequate, erroneous definitions and concepts that are used to weave that cloak of invisibility and ultimately lay the basis for a hidden, and therefore even more virulent, type of discrimination against women. The chapter then discusses what is needed to remove the cloak of invisibility, and the Philippines experience in that regard, before ending with a look at the road ahead.

The SNA, Warts, and All

Originally, the so-called production boundary of the SNA excluded not only the value of services but also the value of goods produced at home for own consumption. Slowly, over time, exceptions were made for certain kinds of goods (for example, primary products and their processing), until in 1993 all goods produced for home consumption were finally allowed to enter the national accounts. But the exclusion of services—household members producing household and personal services for own consumption (that is, cleaning, meal preparation, caring and instruction of children, caring for the sick) and volunteer workers in non-profit institutions serving households—has remained, as mentioned earlier, a constant.

  • [1] Several of these entities (DAW, INSTRAW, and UNIFEM) had been amalgamated by thetime of publication into UN Women.
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >