Gender Data Shines Policy Spotlight on Unpaid Care and Domestic Work in Kenya


Who carries what? The burden of unpaid care work

Women globally shoulder a disproportionate amount of unpaid care and domestic work compared to men. Indeed, studies show that women perform more than three-quarters of all unpaid care work – more than three times the unpaid care work carried out by men. According to Oxfam International, two out of every five or 42 percent of women globally are outside the paid workforce because they are responsible for all the caregiving compared to 6 percent of men.

In Kenya, it is no different; unpaid care responsibilities for both girls and boys begin at an early age with the gap increasing for girls and women throughout their lifecycle.

While women in Kenya account for slightly more than 50 percent of the total working population, most of them work in the informal sector and are also heavily involved in care work at the household and community level. This contribution is typically not economically quantified and valued.

“One of the targets under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 on gender equality highlights the importance of addressing unpaid care work,” said Maureen Gitonga, Programme Specialist, Gender Statistics at UN Women Kenya.

“Under this target, Member States commit to recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work, provide the necessary infrastructure, and promote shared responsibilities in households,” said Gitonga.

No wonder then that like other countries globally and in the region, Kenya has identified unpaid care work as one of the barriers to achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment in the country.

Studies in the region, including from neighbors Tanzania and Uganda, show that heavy and unequal unpaid care and domestic work exclude women and girls from opportunities to engage in decent paid work, education, political life, and leisure activities thus undermining their rights.

Mother with a young child
Mother with a young child. PHOTO: UN Women Kenya 

So, how can Kenya mitigate this?

Well, evidence-based gender-responsive policies are a good place to start and Kenya is well on its way to tackling this issue as part of ensuring gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Gender data and evidence-based policy as solutions

Kenya is in the process of formulating an unpaid care policy and is also finalizing the Basic Report based on its first-ever Time Use Survey conducted in 2021. The two initiatives are complementary in establishing an understanding of the extent of unpaid care and domestic work in Kenya and assigning value to it for development planning, wealth generation, and nation-building.

KNBS undertook the inaugural Time Use Survey with technical assistance from UN Women through its global flagship gender data and statistics programme dubbed Women Count.

“While there has been commendable progress in the past few years to produce timely, accurate, and relevant data, Kenya currently has data for only 42 of the 80 gender-related SDG indicators,” said Caneble Oganga, Programme Specialist-Gender Statistics Advisor, Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

Unpaid care and domestic work is one of the areas with gender data gaps that Kenya needs to address to effectively monitor progress and report on the SDGs as well as other international and national commitments such as Kenya’s Vision 2030.

“The Survey is therefore an important milestone in KNBS’ and Women Count’s efforts to strengthen the production of gender statistics,” said Oganga.

Time Use Surveys collect information from individuals on what they do with their time and how they allocate it to different activities over a specified period—typically 24 hours over one or more days. The data provides a picture of people’s daily lives and is therefore a rich source of gender-relevant information.

Kenya’s Time Use Survey is timely; efforts have previously been made to estimate unpaid productive work for consideration in policymaking with little success. This is partly due to the absence of relevant and statistically representative data.

“The data disaggregated by sex, age group, and location provided through the Time Use Survey will be instrumental in informing policy,” said Jackline Migide, Technical Lead – Gender at the Council of Governors (COG).

“It will also go a long way in supporting evidence-based decision-making and advocacy on unpaid care and domestic work down to the county level,” said Migide.

In addition, by supporting a proper evaluation of the economic contribution of invisible work, the Survey will contribute significantly to putting in place the necessary measures to address quality of life, well-being, and time poverty issues related to unpaid care and domestic work.

Building capacity from the ground up

County gender officers and national gender focal points are not being left behind in these new developments.

As part of ongoing efforts to build capacity for gender-responsive planning and policy development, in June 2022, UN Women partnered with the State Department for Gender (SDfG), KNBS, and Oxfam to train national and county officials on unpaid care and domestic work, which are part of the care economy.

“The training was timely and very relevant especially because Kenya, through the State Department for Gender, is in the process of formulating an Unpaid Care Policy,” said Caroline Kungu, Ag. Deputy Director, State Department for Industrialization.

“The sessions provided a deeper understanding of exactly how unpaid care and domestic work contributes to the national economy. We even went as far as learning about its impact on the macro-economy,” said Kungu.

The participation of more than 200 mid-level-to-senior officers from all 47 counties and a cross-section of line ministries brought a diversity of perspectives and experiences, which greatly enriched discussions at the training.

“This was a great opportunity to create awareness on the importance of recognizing and redistributing unpaid care and domestic work through investing in public infrastructure that benefits all people, especially the most vulnerable women, and girls,” said Ruth Oloo, Programme Manager - Women Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) at Oxfam International.

While participants resonated with real-life examples of how research findings have influenced gender policy advocacy and policymaking in Kitui County, global perspectives provided valuable insights on unpaid care issues and trends from the region and elsewhere.

“Unpaid care work is an important development, economic, and gender equality issue in Kenya” said Rhoda Misiko, Deputy Director at the State Department for Gender.

“The training was therefore a golden opportunity to interact with a broad range of evidence on unpaid care and domestic work and learn about international good practices. This deepened my understanding of the implications of evidence gaps in the Kenyan context,” said Misiko.

What next? All hands on deck for sustainable implementation

Following the training, participants will be actively involved in validating the Care Work Needs Assessment for Policy Roadmaps scheduled for publishing at the end of October 2022.

From September 2022, the relevant stakeholders including those represented in the Technical Working Group will be engaged in the ongoing conceptualization of the Unpaid Care Policy. On their part, ministries, counties, departments, and agencies (MCDAs) will integrate unpaid care work with their respective work plan development programmes for sustainable budgeting and planning.