What is a woman’s worth?
She’s just a housewife. She doesn’t work.” This was what Ajunath Sindhu Vinayala would often hear from his father whenever he introduced his wife. Ajunath, a 9th grader from Kerala, was disturbed by this as he never saw his mother idle. So he painted a picture of his mother’s daily routine, from feeding chickens to milking the cow, going to market, tending the garden, cooking meals, sweeping the floor, drawing water from the well, doing laundry, giving the baby a bath, and more.
Ajunath’s teacher sent his painting to the state government office, where it got selected as the cover for the 2021 gender budget document. Unfortunately, Ajunath’s mother died in November 2020 due to ill health, but the painting will live on as a testament to the saying, “A woman’s work is never done.”
People equate the amount of money they get paid for work done as their worth. But a lot of real work being done by women to make life easier for their families are unseen, unpaid, and many times unappreciated. The OECD Development Centre defines unpaid care work as all unpaid services provided within a household for its members, including care of persons, housework, and voluntary community work. These are considered work, because theoretically one could pay a third person to perform them.
Before the pandemic happened, I had outside help who came twice a week to take care of household chores. When the lockdown happened, I found myself having to take care of the entire household, from cleaning and scrubbing the floors to cooking, gardening, and pet care, while having to figure out how to pivot our organization to the new normal. I was blessed to have my adult children and my 86-year-old mother with me, and they helped ease the burden. Days began before the sun came up and ended late into the night, as we juggled the twin responsibilities of the organization as well as the home. Our experience, I am sure, was being lived out in other homes.
Indeed, COVID-19 has dramatically increased the burden of unpaid care, the brunt of which is traditionally carried by women. UN Women reports that before COVID-19, women spent three times as many hours as men on unpaid domestic work and care work. While both men and women are doing more unpaid work at home, a UN Women Study on Unpaid Care and Domestic Work during COVID-19 shows that women do the lion’s share of household work and domestic chores, like cooking, grocery shopping and cleaning, caring for children, teaching and playing with them, and providing affective emotional support for adult family members. From 26 hours pre-pandemic, women now spend 31 hours per week solely on childcare, which is the equivalent of a full-time job. Unpaid.
What is the value of all this unpaid work? UN Women estimates the value of over 16.4 billion hours spent on unpaid care work every day at 9 percent of global GDP, or $11 trillion. Staggering, isn’t it? Obviously, without the unpaid care and domestic work performed by women and girls, the world would not be able to function properly.
While the world figures out how to value and compensate unpaid work, let’s observe the amount of unpaid work women do out of love for us. And then, let’s lift some of the burden off their shoulders, and start teaching our children that work should be shared equally. Let’s take the cue from 14-year-old Ajunath, who saw his mother work unceasingly to take care of hearth and home, and immortalized this in his painting to prove her real worth.
Maria Montserrat “Monette” Iturralde-Hamlin is the founder and president of Team Asia and chair of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines.
Women Who Lead is an initiative of the Philippine Women’s Economic Network (PhilWEN).
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