A group of women, all impacted by unpaid care work in their own way, gather water in Nigeria

What is Unpaid Care Work and How Does it Impact Women in the Developing World?

When the first cases of COVID-19 emerged early last year, the phrase “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” took on new meaning. But for many women around the globe, “staying home” was not a pre-pandemic choice, and it will remain a reality long after the health crisis is over. Learn how TechnoServe is working to find and implement solutions that free up time for women to pursue their economic dreams outside of the home.

unpaid care work

A group of women gather water in Nigeria, a form of unpaid care work and labor that often falls on women more often than men

Around the world, record numbers of women left the workforce in 2020, citing reasons such as difficulty securing child care and pay disparities. But many are still working in another capacity: performing unpaid labor at home. 

What is Women’s Economic Empowerment?

The term “women’s economic empowerment” refers to women’s ability to earn an income and their power to make and act on economic decisions. But outside of paid labor in the formal and informal sectors, women also often do a different kind of work in the form of emotional support, cooking meals, mending clothes, procuring water, guiding their children’s education, and managing the household.

This responsibility of unpaid care work (UCW), or unpaid labor, often limits women’s ability to pursue economic goals outside of the home. 

“Women have incredible talent and drive to pursue economic goals,” says Cristina Manfre, TechnoServe’s global gender director. “But they’re often held back because they are disproportionately responsible for unpaid care work at home. It’s not just the hours and the energy they put into their care work, but the emotional weight of this responsibility as well.”

 Unpaid Care Work Disproportionally Impacts Women

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, a UN report found that women were spending 200% more time on unpaid labor than were men. The current crisis has only deepened women’s challenges on all work fronts, as Manfre wrote recently in an article originally published in Business Fights Poverty: The COVID-19 Pandemic is Jeopardizing Women’s Ability to Earn a Living. Here’s How We Can Respond.

TechnoServe is working to change that by providing the knowledge, tools, and connections women need to increase their incomes, set aside more money for savings, and access financial opportunities like loans and equity. For many women, their communities, and market systems, this knowledge is transformative. 

Meet Four Women Overcoming Barriers Unpaid Care Work Creates

Here are four examples of how ambitious women in the developing world have worked with TechnoServe to overcome barriers presented by unpaid care work in order to transform their lives:

  1. In Andhra Pradesh, India, Nimmaka Varahalamma is helping women in her community take on a variety of roles outside of the home by encouraging them to become leaders of farmer producer organizations (FPOs). These groups are dominated by men, even though women also do significant work on the farm.

    Earlier, most of the women directors would be irregular in attending the meetings. The training has helped increase their knowledge about the FPO and a sense of ownership. They now treat the meetings and all other FPO activities as part of their work.”
    – Nimmaka Varahalamma

    Nimmaka participated in TechnoServe’s Sustainable Livelihoods for Smallholder Farmers program, made possible with grant funding from the Walmart Foundation. Click here to see how she helped her FPO achieve nearly equal gender representation, and the difference it made in her community. 

    Many responsibilities of motherhood are examples of unpaid care work

  2. Bernadette Sambo is a wife, mother, and successful businesswoman living in Mozambique’s Maputo province. Using the insights and knowledge she gained from TechnoServe’s Business Women Connect (BWC) program,  she has been able to balance being a working mother and transform her business at the same time. Read Bernadette’s story

    Now my husband is my business partner, and we agree on decisions. He also supports me with the children, which means I can work longer hours during the day, thus getting to know my customers’ preferences and pursuing new business opportunities.”
    — Bernadette Sambo

  3. Meet Ikite Thomas, a young girl in Ethiopia who was responsible for fetching water for her family. Ikite had to walk to the nearby Tercha River at early hours to avoid the smell of runoff pollution from local coffee mills, often making her late for school.With TechnoServe’s introduction of an innovative agricultural solution in her community — vetiver wetlands — she could go to class at regular hours and was no longer late for school. With more time to attend classes, Ikite is closer to achieving her dreams of becoming a doctor and marrying later in life.

    During the harvest period, I didn’t even want to wash my school uniform in the river because it smelled like rotten coffee pulp, and I didn’t want to be ashamed at school.”
    – Ikite Thomas

  4. In Uganda, girls face two major employability disadvantages. The country has one of the highest school drop-out rates for women in East Africa and one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in sub-Saharan Africa. Women and girls are often forced to take care of the family without sufficient skills to earn a living.

    This was the case for Moureen Nakisozi, who was forced to drop out of school at the age of 16. She put her own dreams on hold as she took care of her sister’s children and became one of the countless women in Africa performing long hours of unpaid labor.Then, she heard about the Girls’ Apprenticeship Program (GAP), where she learned how to start her own business — in welding, no less, a physically demanding field with few women. The partnership between TechnoServe and Citi Foundation is one of the ways we help young women achieve their dreams, no matter how high the odds.

    It was challenging to handle very heavy machinery. We sometimes use a lot of energy. It took me over a month to get used to it, but I’m now used to it and find it normal and easy.”
    – Moureen Nakisozi

How Can You Support Gender Equity and Empower Hardworking Women?

The pandemic has brought to light existing inequalities in every region of the world. How can we respond? 

Many programs can start training women to improve their livelihoods and their futures for just $50. Ready to invest in impact? Here’s how you can make a difference.