In today's Finshots, we discuss how a pandemic affects women and their role in the unpaid labour market.


The Story

Labour participation statistics can be extremely deceiving. The numbers only reflect the dynamics in the formal/informal economy. It does not include a parallel world that enables these markets to function effectively. Think about it. Women do most of the unpaid work that helps prop up economies. They raise children, they shop, they cook, they tend to the old and sickly. This domestic, unpaid labour is the foundation on which most economies are built. And as one report notes — “[Although] not all of this work is done by females… globally women and girls are responsible for 75% of unpaid care and domestic work in homes and communities every day. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) calculates that on average women around the world perform 4 hours and 25 minutes of unpaid care work every day compared with 1 hour and 23 minutes for men.”

And we aren’t just talking about housewives here. We are also talking about women with actual jobs. These ladies have to be part breadwinners and still do most of the unpaid work back home. And when a pandemic makes landfall, these inequalities are only magnified. Here’s one example. In most relationships, women don’t make as much money as men. And as a consequence, their work is seen as being subordinate to the primary cause. So when you have to work from home and unpaid labour increases disproportionately, it’s women that bear the brunt of the burden. They are forced to quit work prematurely and “help the family” out.

Now the data suggests that men have lost more jobs than women during these past few months. But that’s only because female participation in the labour force is still quite pitiful. Meaning, even if a few women were forced to quit their jobs, the impact would be more pronounced. And don’t get me wrong. I am not saying women are being forced to step away only because they have to deal with stuff back home. No. In fact, a good number of women are being laid off because they are working jobs that have no need for them.

As one article notes  “With more than 60% of women employed in the informal sector… options like working from home and virtual workspaces are not viable. These economies already operate in a cycle of poor wages, discrimination and horrible working conditions. They will simply do away with female employees. Such was the case for domestic and garment factory workers. They were instantly dismissed across the country, without any proper notice or compensation. Besides, the urban-rural migration could displace women employed in agriculture, as men return to take over.” But that’s not all. Women also have to deal with other more pressing issues back home. When stress and financial difficulties build-up, domestic violence inevitably follows. They are really fighting the odds here.

Perhaps the only silver lining to this story is that, at least in India, some men seem to be stepping up. As an article in Livemint notes 

“The median woman was putting in a little under 5 hours of housework in a day, and the median man a little under 90 minutes a day, at the end of last year. By April this year, women were still doing the lion’s share. But as households were forced to fold inwards, some hard divisions got blurred. By April, both men and women were spending more time on housework…but the average gap between men and women decreased by 1 hour. The narrowing of the gap was driven in large part by recently unemployed men contributing more to housework.”

And while this is not a sizeable contribution by any sense of the imagination, it does offer hope. Unpaid labour doesn’t have to be this unequal.

Come on guys, let’s start contributing our fair share now, eh?

Until then…

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Also you can check our daily brief here. In today's issue we talk about oil, remote work, and social media violations. Do read the full draft:)