Women’s Unpaid Work

Back in May, I posted a blog entry titled Housewives Should Go On Strike. It highlighted a recent study which calculated the value of a stay at home mother’s work to be $138,095 a year.

In one of my responses to Umar Lee’s April 2007 Blog entry, “In the Kitchen, Masha Allah,” I wrote:

I have a problem with ahistorical views of women’s work and gender divided labor. Technological advances has made women’s work seem a lot easier, but technology has a costs. The difference is between informal economies and formal economies. Before women contributed to mainly in informal economies. Western women are no longer washing clothes by hand, fetching water, making cookware, cooking by scratch, weaving baskets, spinning thread, weaving cloth, sewing garments, mending, producing foodstuffs for times of shortage, pounding or grinding grain, wetnursing, and childrearing. All of these things were productive labor that contributed to the household, but were not part of the monied economy. Women’s work, has therefore gone under the radar of many scholars. It is also devalued by Western feminists who overlook that non-Western women continue to be vital to informal economies that support households. Modernity, in many ways, has undermined women’s traditional values. Women’s productive labor has always been considered valuable, which is the reason why dowries were often paid in traditional societies (a man was paying his wive’s family for the loss of her productive labor). Women’s work has always been hard, and it has often taken her out of the house to perform rigorous tasks. It is interesting, because the only that purdah was fully implemented in societies with strict gender divided labor is when there was a class of slave women. Slave women performed the work (i.e. fetch water, firewood, work in fields) secluded women were unable to do. The end of slavery in many Muslim societies altered family relations, meaning more work for the wives. In Northern Nigeria, young girls perform many of these duties for their mothers. I guess my point is that the secluded woman whose sole duty is to look pretty and throw together a meal is an elite ideal.

So, continuing that theme, I found a UPAC (UN Platform for Action Committee) website called Women & the Economy

Measuring Unpaid Work
Because women’s unpaid work has no dollar value attached to it, it took many years for governments to even measure the hours dedicated to unpaid work. Because of this, much of women’s activities were not taken into account in the development of laws and policies. This omission exacerbated existing inequalities. Measuring unpaid work was one of the major challenges to governments that came out of the UN Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985 as well as the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. The Platform for Action that developed out of Beijing calls for national and international statistical organizations to measure unpaid work and reflect its value in satellite accounts to the GDP.1

Here is one typical woman’s work day:

Consider Tendai, a young girl in the Lowveld, in Zimbabwe. Her day starts at 4 a.m. when, to fetch water, she carriers a thirty litre tin to a borehole about eleven kilometres from her home. She walks barefoot and is home by 9 a.m. She eats a little and proceeds to fetch firewood until midday. She cleans the utensils from the family’s morning meal and sits preparing a lunch of sadza for the family. After lunch and the cleaning of the dishes, she wanders in the hot sun until early evening, fetching wild vegetables for supper before making the evening trip for water. Her day ends at 9 p.m., after she has prepared supper and put her younger brothers and sisters to sleep. Tendai is considered unproductive, unoccupied, and economically inactive. According to the international economic system, Tendai does not work and is not part of the labour force.

Just some food for thought as many of us enjoy an iftar prepared by the labors of amazing women (many of whom were fasting themselves).

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2 thoughts on “Women’s Unpaid Work

  1. Add to Tendai’s age by a few years and she’ll have the added unpaid duties of a wife and mother. So after a grueling physical day outdoors, running the kitchen and other domestic chores, she’ll have to be able to tend to her husband’s needs at night, and carry on all the above while nurturing and caring for her babies. Good grief!

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  2. Sister, make sure you see the new book by Riane Eisler, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics, which is about the vast and unaccounted for economic value of women’s unpaid labor to the world economy. And what it would mean for the well-being of the world’s people to accord women’s work its true value. This book could revolutionize the field of economics.

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