Women: The Unpaid Worker

All over the world, women perform unpaid work as homemakers and care-givers. Imagine this: Ms. A is a mother and takes care of her three kids and her elderly parents. She cannot work outside the home. Compare this to another woman, Ms. B who works outside her home. Ms. B cares for the children of another family. Ms. B is a paid worker for caring for other children. Her work is recognized. She will obtain benefits like medical insurance and retirement. Unlike Ms. A. who is invisible to the productive world, has no protection, no rights and benefits.

What can we do to uplift the plight of people, mostly women like Ms. A? This was the topic of the Inter Parliamentary Union’s conference, which I chaired at the United Nation’s last week. I summarized some of the key points of the speech I delivered at the session of the Commission on the Status of Women.

Chairing the IPU-UN Session on Shared Responsibilities, March 4, 2009

We need to reduce the burden of unpaid work and promote equal sharing of responsibilities between men and women. Historically, women have been the homemakers and care-givers. But today, many women need or want to be part of the work force. This, men need to take on more responsibilities at home.

Many countries have ratified relevant labor conventions. But each country needs to review their national policies and legislation that relates to workers with family responsibilities, that recognize women as part of the labor force, that provide maternity protection, breast feeding support, reasonable hours of work, and so on.

In determining the right policies, we need to emphasis the importance of a gender balanced approach to care-giving (as opposed to focusing on the woman alone) and the need to develop measures to support a more active role of men in care-giving.

There needs to be a change in mind-set. Likewise, action needs to be taken to address gender stereotypes. This begins with education and promoting gender equality and addressing gender stereotypes in school curriculums and grassroots programs.

There also needs to be institutional changes, say in parliaments. We discussed the difficulties faced by women in politics. Parliament was historically a male only profession. Many of its traditions still endure, making it difficult for women to enter or survive (more on this in another blog).

We also noted that during time of economic uncertainty, governments may tend to reduce spending on social services. The consequences of this move would be tremendous. This would put more stress on an already over-burdened health and social services/welfare sector. Without reliable health care and social services, women again will bear the bigger burden “ a burden that will go unrecognized and unprotected.

Back in our respective parliaments, we need to look at the tools at our disposal to bring the value of unpaid care work to the fore. We need to question our national accounts systems, make use of time-use surveys and most importantly, use the national budgetary process to take into account the contribution of unpaid care work and provide support to those who perform it.

As an aside, I note that in the Philippines, there are a lot of families where the man is now the primary home-maker and care-giver. For more reason we need to address gender stereo-types. These stay-at-home dads, need the support and in many cases the training needed to be good home-maker and care-givers.

In conclusion, we need to to reassess how we view women’s unpaid work. We need to put in safeguards and protection for these women (and men). We need to recognize and reward women’s various contributions to the economy and promote a more gender balanced approach to the sharing of responsibilities.

n.b. this is part of a series of articles I am writing in connection with our observation of Womens month and the conferences/meetings I attended in New York.

5 comments on “Women: The Unpaid Worker

  1. Mary Ann Bautista

    Hi Pia,

    I agree with your points above. I, too, in the beginning of being a new mother, have struggled on balancing my time with work and attending to the needs of family/kids and maintaining a home. One of the greater benefits that I’m lucky enough to take advantage of is that my employer allows telecommuting/working from home. Depending on one’s profession, this is an option that worked great for me. I am able to attend to my kids’ needs in the morning, getting them ready for school, driving them to school; hen coming back home to start work, working my meeting schedules around the time I need to pick up the kids from school, and be at home with them when they come home from school. There is no need to have them wait at a babysitter’s house. They are free to start homework, snack, play a bit and relax. The husband also helps with alternating on who brings and picks them up to/from their after school activities and/or on days I’m not able to bring them to school.

    Is telecommuting an option in the Philippines now? If not, is it something that can be promoted in places of business and employment and corporations?

    There is no substitute for a mom attending to the care and needs of her own children. The yayas and sitters can provide immediate physical help, but from a moral, spiritual, emotional and even intellectual support that kids needs – having Mom and/or Dad around to attend to them would always be the best. These are priceless also!

    Wish you all the best in the great causes you are promoting in our beloved country and in other nations as well!

    Mary Ann

  2. When you said there needs to be a change in mind set, you hit the nail on the head Pia. The old and traditional patriarchal system of the Filipino family no longer works well under present conditions. Whereas before, a single wage earner in the man (father) could support a family, with the wife taking care of the children and the home, nowadays generally, unless the man earns enough, both have to work to maintain decent living. So, in my view women should be given equal oppurtunities and rights as men from the cradle to the grave. Daughters should be given the equal oppurtunity to education, for example, as the sons. Professions traditionally for men only should be opened to women who are qualified. Women should be given the same oppurtunity for advancement as men in managerial positions both in government and the private sector. Men should share the chores at home and caring for the children. The patriarchal system worked well before but not now.

  3. Great site this mydailyrace.com and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

  4. Anne Nacionales

    The dual role being a woman applies to men, too.

    I am a home-based working mother. I don’t want to exaggerate my income but I would say I earn more than how much the value of money I have made being close to my beloved family. There are I think 16+ colleagues of mine around the country and 10+ in India who are mostly mothers doing almost the same job as mine. A decent home-base data entry, virtual assistance, cyberscape research has been our job for more than two years now. We have been retained by our US employer until now and still we are allowed to entertain other online errands without losing the regular ones. I also do translation tasks regularly for Hong Kong Airport Intelligence Division, Canadian Cancer Society and few others. So why must I look for a job that will deprive myself being with my daughter almost round the clock when there is a productive home job that I can lean on 😀

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *