Poorly paid, backbreaking jobs on top of caring for families leave women drained not empowered

Published on 28 February 2018

Over the past two years (2015 – 2017), IDS researchers have worked with partners in India, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania to capture in-depth stories of low-income women’s lives and the extent to which state and local NGO-run economic empowerment initiatives are helping to improve them.

The new report ‘No Time to Rest’, finds that national and local level women’s economic empowerment initiatives in developing countries are failing to capture the full physical, emotional and economic costs to women of balancing paid work with unpaid care duties.

It warns that unless the backbreaking drudgery of water carrying, fuel collection, cooking and caring is urgently addressed future global progress on women’s rights and gender equality could stall.

Most women in the study reported physically punishing working days that involved travelling significant distances between home and work, often carrying heavy loads, and incurring injuries. With no time to rest between work and caring for children and other family members their own health and wellbeing often comes last. However, women dig deep into personal and social reserves and carry on, because of the economic necessities they and their families face.

Manjari* is 18 years old and lives with her husband, two young children and her husband’s extended family in Indore, Madhya Pradesh, India. She told researchers:

“I’ve been doing brick kiln work since I was 11 years old. I work for 15 hours a day. Often I only manage to get only 4 or 5 hours of sleep. Even though I work long hours at the kiln I have to do all the work at home. I have to wash the dishes, make food, sweep the house, all the cleaning I have to do alone. It takes us two hours for each round of water collection.

“Last year I was pregnant with my daughter and I worked at the kilns right up until my ninth month of pregnancy. There was no break for me – it was very intense. I felt helpless and exhausted but I had to continue.

“Having access to a tap in the slum would ease my burden. Also having some childcare facilities at the kilns would mean I could focus more on work and not worry about my children.”

Deepta Chopra, Research Fellow at IDS and lead author of ‘No Time to Rest’, says the solution lies in the provision of good quality and affordable public services, alongside decent work opportunities for men and women. She says:

“Work with decent pay and conditions, alongside basic public services is essential for women in low-income countries to break free from the backbreaking drudgery of their daily lives. Achieving the UN Global Goal 5 on gender equality by 2030 depends on it.

“The current tendency in international development to view women’s economic empowerment as only a matter of access to employment is failing women and their families.”

Background and funding

The report was produced as part of the Balancing unpaid care work and paid work project. The work was carried out at part of the Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) program with financial support from the UK Government’s Department for International Development, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the International Development Research Centre, Canada.

Find out more

To access all our results and outputs, and read about our engagement actvities, go to the Interactions for Gender Justice website.


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