Unpaid Care Work Burden in the COVID-19 crisis



Hodan Addou (002)
UN Women Representative in Tanzania, Ms. Hodan Addou. Photo: UN Women


The recent Policy brief on the Impact of COVID-19 on Women highlighted the need to address the socio-economic challenges likely to increase the risk of women getting infected by the coronavirus both at home and as caregivers. It also recommends interventions by all stakeholders to boost investment in addressing gender-based violence; ensure the safety of female caregivers at home and in health centres; promote women’s participation and leadership to improve gender responsiveness; support equal distribution of unpaid care work; and designing of interventions that provide economic resilience to women. The Policy brief provides strategies on how best to support women’s productive and unpaid care and domestic work which has been exacerbated by the pandemic; and to reprioritize public expenditure to allocate more funding to social care infrastructure, among other recommendations. 


Unlike their male counterparts who each day spend 1.7 hours on unpaid care and domestic work, women on average spend 4.1 hours per day, a painful reflection of an imbalance that has persisted for many years. Although these women significantly contribute to the sustenance of families, communities, economies and countries, the value of their care and domestic work has remained invisible. Some studies show that the global monetary value of unpaid care and domestic work for women aged 15 and above is at USD 10.8 trillion, three times the size of the world’s tech industry.  


According to the UN Women Representative in Tanzania, Ms. Hodan Addou, the emergence of the coronavirus crisis is likely to generate some residual effect on the social norms, which can lead to changing how care and domestic work would be perceived beyond the pandemic. “Indeed, the coronavirus has increased the demand for care work in many families where the workload falls heavily on women and girls. UN Women and our partners are advocating for an equal distribution of care and domestic work. Women and men should equally take on roles such as caring for the sick, the elderly and children who are currently not going to school,” says Ms. Addou. She further explains while it is commendable that women are demonstrating leadership capacity in the national response to the coronavirus crisis in Tanzania, both in the health sector and domestic space to ensure their concerns and interests are considered in response and recovery plans , sharing of responsibilities, particularly at home is currently critical to ensure continuity of care work. The UN Policy Brief, she says, serves as a reminder to governments and development partners not to neglect the impact on COVID-19 on women and to promote strengthening of protection of girls to prevent them from dropping out of school and early and child marriages, as has been the case in other epidemics. In Tanzania, she says, UN Women is expanding its partnerships to upscale efforts aimed at addressing the various impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls.


A gender activist in Tanzania, and also a member of the steering committee for the African Women Leaders’ Network (AWLN), Ms. Asseny Muro trace this inequality to the social norms she says have placed women and girls in unpaid or poorly remunerated domestic work. She cites patriarchy as a driver of socialization that has fueled gender inequality, tilting the scale to disadvantage women and girls when it comes to education, choice of work, wages and their wellbeing. However, Ms. Muro thinks there is some light at the end of the tunnel and the current tide can be turned, “That is if governments and development partners in Africa can increase investment in developing systems that promote greater equality in the home space, particularly in the face of COVID-9. Policy reforms can help to activate the economic value of care and domestic work.” She adds: “Investing in systems that can add value to unpaid care work makes business sense.”


Through a new joint partnership with the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) and UNFPA, UN Women is also extending support to women and adolescent girls to address the short and long-term economic effects of the coronavirus in the regions of Shinyanga and Singida. 


“This programme comes at a critical time when we all need to focus our attention to   strengthening the social and economic resilience of women. We will soon start to support rural women in the two regions of Singida and Shinyanga through agricultural production and collective marketing to help increase their income and improve sustainability of their livelihoods and food security,” Ms. Addou said.


In the next three years the joint programme will help to address gender-based violence; promote households’ equal decision making, planning and shared domestic responsibilities; provide new agricultural techniques for increased production; help to enhance land tenure security and improve access to finance, among other benefits; and promote entrepreneurial skills and collective marketing.