What would you do if you had 80 minutes of additional free time every day?
Eighty minutes each day, or a little more than 9 hours every week, is on average what women in developing countries would gain if unpaid work was equalized between women and men.
Women do more unpaid agricultural work than men and disproportionately spend time on unpaid care work. Unpaid care work includes household tasks like supplying water and fuel, cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children, elderly, sick, or other family members for which there is no financial compensation. This disparity affects rural households’ food security and economies’ potential for agricultural growth.
How does women’s unpaid care work affect agriculture? Women often stay close to or in the house with limited mobility; they have less and more fragmented time for agricultural work and are often multi-tasking. For example, in Malawi, during planting season for soy and groundnuts, women had to stop planting several times a day or couldn’t stay to supervise planting because they had to feed young children or go back to the house to prepare meals. It was also difficult to fully participate in farmer field school sessions when they brought their young children. Beyond the farm but still in Malawi, needing to be home to perform unpaid care work gave women traders less flexibility in timing their sales and negotiating better prices, forcing women retailers to close their shops early. Not addressing the constraints unpaid care work places on women limits the impact of investments in agriculture and women’s economic empowerment.
To keep women’s unpaid care work from limiting their participation, agricultural programs can schedule activities at times that don’t conflict with women’s work, hold activities nearby, offer childcare during events, and sensitize family members to the value of women’s participation.
Agricultural technologies can also save women (and men) time. Examples within Feed the Future include small-scale threshers and mills, varieties of soy that need less processing, and small-scale irrigation. Technologies that make unpaid care work faster and less onerous (e.g., more efficient stoves, closer sources of safe water, and safe, nutritious, and affordable processed foods like fish powder, groundnut paste, or soy flour) can also free up women’s time.
But technology can only get us so far. Unpaid work should be recognized, reduced, and re-distributed, while still valuing care and domestic work. Feed the Future and USAID programs are doing their part by working with couples and fathers to take on greater roles in children’s nutrition and care and domestic work and incorporating discussion about gender norms into agricultural training. Recent research even highlights the potential benefits for men’s health from caregiving, in addition to benefits for women, children, and society as a whole. These shifts require making care work more visible, valuing women’s time, and working with communities to change norms that restrict both women’s and men’s options as parents, family members, and economic actors.