Why unpaid care work is a thorny issue in women empowerment

Joseline is a single mother employed in a restaurant in Kimironko. The mother of two wakes up at 4am to prepare her children for school. This includes preparing breakfast, bathing and dressing them up.
A lady tends to her garden. (Net photos)
A lady tends to her garden. (Net photos)

Joseline is a single mother employed in a restaurant in Kimironko. The mother of two wakes up at 4am to prepare her children for school. This includes preparing breakfast, bathing and dressing them up. By 6.30am she leaves home with the children and walks them to the bus stop before she proceeds to her workplace where she works till 5pm. This is her daily routine as she struggles to raise her children into responsible adults.

Like Joseline many women find themselves in this dilemma of juggling unpaid care work and paid work to make ends meet.

However, women activists have warned that this life style is a stumbling block in women empowerment efforts. This concern was also highlighted in a recent survey conducted by ActionAid Rwanda in partnership with Institute of Development Studies in Huye and Musanze districts. The survey indicated that women still bear the burden of unpaid care work, a factor that has continued to create a gap in women empowerment.

Unpaid care work includes endeavours that nurture others, for instance cooking meals, taking care of children, collecting firewood and water, and cleaning the house, among others.

Results from the research showed that rural women spend most of their time on unpaid care work compared to men. According to the findings women spend an average of seven hours daily on unpaid care work while men spend an average of only an hour.

Whereas for paid work, a woman spends an hour and a man spends three.

Early development centres have been set up close to markets, among other places, to help working mothers. 

Why do women still bear the burden?

Evelyn Shema, a gender activist, says this all stems from African culture which sets women to be the ones to solely do that kind of work.

She says society tends to view it as normal for women to spend hours on unpaid care work regardless of whether one is employed or not.

Shema, however, believes that with a number of innovations, such stereotypes will finally be overcome and women will achieve the empowerment they deserve.

“The time will come when we will be able to create various projects that can help ease this burden on women. Access to modern equipment like bio gas can be availed to ease work when it comes to cooking instead of using firewood,” she says.

Shema is also of the view that there must be dialogue in the family about unpaid care work, where it is required to measure the value of those activities for the benefit of the family as an entity.

Women carry water for house chores.

Annette Mukiga, a gender equality activist, shares a similar perspective, saying that women continue to bear the brunt of unpaid care work and that this in some way affects the potential of women both economically and socially.

She points out the issue of the mindset, which is the failure to recognise this kind of work as productive, and men’s reluctance to get involved, as some of the factors that contribute to this burden for women.

“If we were to put on a scale what both a man and woman do in a day you will find that the line of women is very long. Men have time to rest which isn’t the case for women,” Mukiga says.

Mukiga believes that this has a lot to do with how we have been brought up, but times are changing and this ought to change too.

She says that though unpaid care work is necessary, there is the overwhelming need for it to be recognised and for a certain mindset change because it’s a burden, yet most men are not involved in the care work.

“I understand we have been brought up with such mentalities, we need to engage men and help them understand, this way, they will be able to contribute to alleviating this burden that women carry,” she suggests.

“A change in mentality is the way to go. This kind of work needs to be valued and recognised because it actually contributes a lot to the households,” Mukiga says.

Regarding government intervention, Mukiga believes that there is need to put policies that recognise this contribution made by unpaid care since it greatly contributes to society.

She also brings out the ‘Gross Domestic Product’ factor saying that a lot would be contributed to it if only unpaid care work was given monetary value.

Mukiga continues to call on women to be the change they want to see.

“You know change starts with you and me.  It starts at home, in the way we bring up our children.The change at individual and societal levels will help us ease the burden women face in terms of unpaid care work,” Mukiga says.


Are stakeholders doing their part?

Francoise Uwumukiza, the president of National Women Council, says that there are policies in place, for instance, encouraging a man to understand what it means to work as a couple. There is also the introduction of Early Childhood Development Centres that help women have care givers for their children as they take on their daily work.

She says that overcoming this burden will ensure eliminating certain challenges, such as women lagging behind in economic empowerment.

Just like Shema and Mukiga, Uwumukiza puts the large scope of the blame on patriarchal societies where domestic care work is reserved for women.

“Immersing their lives in unpaid care work entirely reduces their chance of fully participating in paid employment. Some actually find it hard to look for employment opportunities,” she says.

Uwumukiza believes that it is such factors that greatly contribute to wrangles in a home because if one side is treated unfairly, there are bound to be disputes.

“Domestic work that is not shared brings lasting effects that ripple through the home leading to vices like gender-based violence,” she says.

Uwumukiza adds, “There is need for replacement of unpaid care work, with this; women will be freed to explore all their potentials.”

She applauds the effort of the government that is trying to lessen this burden.

“There are initiatives to extend water near households and install biogas facilities, as all this reduces on the tasks of women in the household,” she says.

Uwumukiza also believes that re-distributing chores amongst the household members, including men, is another sure way of lessening the burden.

Jean Bosco Murangira, the director of women economic empowerment at the Ministry of Gender and Family promotion, says there is advocacy for all institutions to have mandatory gender-based services, this allows involvement of women in public works.

He also points out different activities that are carried out at the village level and that these help with sensitisation.

“Evening Parents Forum/Umugorobaw’Ababyeyi creates room for family members to discuss issues affecting them and on top of this, it also serves as a way of tackling socio-cultural norms,” he says.

Murangira reiterates Uwumukiza’s view on the approach of ‘engaging men’ explaining that it sensitises men to share the workload, hence reducing women’s effort.

“The National Employment Programme-kora Wigire under its three core pillars of: skills development, business and entrepreneurship development and labour market interventions where it’s clear that women and girls should benefit by at least 40 per cent in all the programme interventions, also acts as support for women in terms of their development,” Murangira says.

How can the burden of unpaid care work on women be reduced?


Gender equality has always been a priority in our country; however, women still face some constraints. This issue of unpaid care work should mostly be handled at the household level since it is where the problem is actually. Wives should be in position to enjoy equal rights with their husbands. 

Adella Mukampazimaka, Housewife



Sensitisation on the role of unpaid care work should be encouraged to help overcome stereotypes that hinder women’s development. It is hard for a woman to do all that kind of work and still find time to engage herself in income generating activities.  

Beatha Mukarurangwa, Shop attendant



Men should be team players; I think this is where the biggest problem is. If they do agree to help their spouses I am sure the burden of unpaid care work will be solved once and for all.

Eunice Mukarwego, Farmer



Men should understand that women are counterparts. What women and men do complement each other; hence the need to share responsibilities, so women shouldn’t be left alone to carry this burden. 

Elvis Izabayo, TV Presenter



People should be educated on the impact that unpaid care work has on society. Its impact is invaluable, hence, there is need to recognise this more so by family members. 

Kismat Uwamwiza, Student


Mathew Kagabo

Different forums held at the village level should be used as a platform to engage both men and women on this issue. I believe this cannot change overnight but with continuous effort, it will finally be eliminated.

Mathew Kagabo,Businessman


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