Civil society: Unpaid care work keeping women in poverty

Alice Anukur, the Country Director of Oxfam Rwanda speaks at the meeting. Courtesy.

Policies and infrastructure that promote recognition, redistribution and reduction of domestic and care work between men and women are urgently needed to accelerate women’s economic empowerment. 

The call was made by Civil Society Organisations, which argue that unpaid care and domestic workloads that are often unevenly distributed is keeping Rwandan women in perpetual poverty. 

The precarious nature of the work and the uncertainty of continuous employment, they say, undermines the economic autonomy of women, making them more vulnerable to gender-based violence.

Unpaid care work refers to all non-market, unpaid activities carried out in households – including both direct care of persons, such as children or elderly, and indirect care, such as cooking, cleaning or fetching water. 

It is recognised as a women’s rights, economic and equality issue under the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

On average, women in rural Rwanda spend up to seven hours daily on domestic and unpaid care work, according to a study conducted in five districts by ActionAid.

Alice Anukur, the Country Director of Oxfam Rwanda, said that while the country seems to be doing well at the national level, there is still a challenge at the household level in redistribution of care work due to patriarchal tendencies and the of women participation in decision making.

She was speaking at a civil society strategy meeting on Monday, December 10, where she said while the country has raised awareness on equal participation, the inadequate compensation for the house helps persists.

Anukur, therefore, called for the government to introduce a minimum wage.

The Government, she said, ought to compute all that is lost through unpaid care work so as to recognise women’s contribution and ensure fair remuneration for the less paid.

“Unless that is done, we will still have low participation of women, high workloads and high levels of GBV,” she explained, stressing that unpaid care work was undermining Rwanda’s gains towards gender equality.

Anatole Uwiragiye, a Project Manager at Actionaid Rwanda, there’s lack of resources to address the unpaid care work.

For example, she says, the government’s commitment to provide electricity by 2020 and reduce the heavy reliance on wood energy for cooking from 83 per cent to 42 per cent in rural areas by 2024 is far from implementation.

“The implementation is impeded by the shortage of resources and as a result some women in the Eastern Province do not prepare food because the cost of firewood is high,” he said.

Naome Nayebare, in charge of International Conventions and Treaties at Gender Monitoring Office, called for more sensitisation to change the patriarchal and behavioural mindset so they can contribute to domestic care.

In the meantime, she added, different stakeholders also need to do much in setting facilities and infrastructures that ease the workload.

“We hope that as we move on with transformation and leaving no one behind, unpaid care work will be addressed among other gender issues that we have in the country.”

According to the International Labour organisation (ILO), the average unpaid care work amongst women globally accounts for four hours and 25 minutes a day.

 In the last 20 years, the amount of time women spent on unpaid care and domestic work has hardly fallen, ILO says.

Its analysis suggests that it will take 209 years to achieve parity in unpaid care work if the pace to address it remains the same.

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