FYI 11th May, 2020

#SplitTheList: Sharing The Burden of Unpaid Work.

by Harshita Rathi, Anahitaa Bakshi, Dayoung Lee and Swetha Totapally from Dalberg Advisors

The COVID pandemic is changing our world in new and unpredictable ways. Constantly evolving lockdown protocols and seemingly distant post-lockdown plans are dominating our daily chatter at the same old dining tables, on never-ending group calls, and in dispiriting national news. There is a current of helplessness running beneath it all. Unfortunately, for many of us, meaningful measures to reduce the burden of lockdown or help build a reimagined post-lockdown world seem to be outside our control. But what if we tell you there is one thing that is well within the sphere of control for most of us? This is the unpaid (and often unnoticed) work inside our homes.

Indian women do 10 times more unpaid care work than men, one of the worst imbalances globally and the COVID pandemic has made this much worse.  This time has forced people to see the amount of work required at home and done by women (synonymous in numerous homes), even if not value it, because of the increased amount of time spent at home.  A national lockdown implies over 32 crore students are stuck at home (due to school and college closures), over 5 crore domestic workers are not available for assistance, and over 10 crore elders (60+ years) need additional care. Daily chores and caregiving are now demanding significantly more attention at home. Even an additional ~2 hours spent on unpaid work per weekday (cleaning, cooking, washing, caring for dependents), translates into approximately 30 percent[1] increase in the unpaid work burden on women.

Not only are women additionally burdened in such times, but their contributions through paid work are needed more than ever. Global estimates for the economic value of unpaid work range from 10 to 60 percent of GDP. Unpaid care work has been a major barrier restricting women from getting into, remaining, and progressing in the workforce. A heightened increase in this burden will contribute to even more women opting for part-time jobs or dropping out of the workforce. This will be detrimental to our economic recovery efforts and especially to the already declining female labour force participation in India. Further, participating in care work benefits men too. Research shows that involved men/ fathers feel more emotionally connected to their partners and children, and lead healthier, happier and longer lives[2].

Unprecedented times require unprecedented actions. This time provides us an opportunity to revisit whether existing norms are the ones that should prevail, even in a post lockdown world. What if men and women in every household share the unpaid work at home more equally and intentionally? Sharing this work will help our families to do better, strengthen our relationships, and allow the world to prosper. Dalberg, building on its work on time poverty globally has put together a short video that makes a case to share the burden at home. The video illustrates the impacts of unpaid care on women by showing how today’s circumstances affect them disproportionately. Our hope is that men and women alike see this video, have discussions at home about existing patterns in their own lives, and consider what shifts they may want to make as we enter a post-lockdown world. Let’s encourage men to shoulder their share of the responsibility, give women the confidence to ask men to do their part, and collectively #SplitTheList.



[1] We know Indian women does around 312 mins per day of this work, so this is around 36hrs/ week. 5×2= 10 hrs per week additional (if we say weekend work remains same). 10/36 = roughly 28%.

[2] Men care, State of the world’s fathers: Unlocking the power of men’s care, 2019

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