What impact does unpaid care work have on women's economic prospects and growth? How can we support these everyday superheroes? In this episode of The Development Podcast, we explore the economics around this issue, whether women are tending to children or the elderly. What goes into this often invisible workload, and how do the burdens these women carry affect their every day lives?
We draw from recent findings of this year’s 2023 Women, Business, and the Law report and also speak with three guests: Laura Rawlings, Lead Economist for the World Bank’s Gender Group, Nguyen Thi Kieu Trang (KT), Marketing and Communications Manager with CARE International in Vietnam, and Jyoti Macwan, General Secretary at the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and former tobacco worker, who share their insights and own experiences in the struggles women continue to face today but also steps women—and men—can take in the fight for gender equality. Listen now!
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- Laura Rawlings, Lead Economist for the World Bank’s Gender Group.
- Nguyen Thi Kieu Trang (KT), Marketing and Communications Manager with CARE International in Vietnam.
- Jyoti Macwan, General Secretary at the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
[00:00] Raka Banerjee: Hello and welcome to The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group coming to you from Washington, DC and beyond. I'm Raka Banerjee.
Srimathi Sridhar: And I'm Srimathi Sridhar. In this episode, we hone in on one of the biggest issues facing women worldwide, unpaid care work.
Raka Banerjee: Women still do a disproportionate amount of work caring for children and others. So what impact does this have on their economic prospects and how can they be supported? We get the view from India.
Jyoti Macwan: They were at peace going to work every day. Their productivity was increased and their income was increased.
Srimathi Sridhar: We also hear from Vietnam about the challenges of tackling cultural norms.
Nguyen Thi Kieu Trang (KT): Prejudice about the unpaid care work is changing, men taking care of more of their housework and share with their women more.
Raka Banerjee: And from the World Bank Group here in Washington, DC about how the pandemic brought to the forefront this age-old issue.
Laura Rawlings: I think the hope is that we've seen this very starkly. That is what COVID revealed, and now we can do something about it.
Srimathi Sridhar: That's all coming up here on The Development Podcast.
[01:29] Srimathi Sridhar: So Raka, what can you share with us in terms of some recent data about women's lives and livelihoods?
Raka Banerjee: Well, the World Bank just released its annual report on Women, Business and the Law, which looks at women's economic participation. The report is based around the idea that ending gender inequality is essential for ending extreme poverty.
Srimathi Sridhar: Yeah, that seems like a pretty reasonable promise to me. So how does the report evaluate women's participation in the economy?
Raka Banerjee: Great question. Well, the report looks at eight areas of laws and regulations. So it's looking at those that are governing mobility, workplace pay, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension.
Srimathi Sridhar: Okay. Well that seems like a pretty comprehensive overview of wellbeing. So what were the major findings from this year's report?
Raka Banerjee: Each year, the report looks at the pace of reforms around the world, across 190 economies. And unfortunately with the most recent data, which is for 2022, they found that the global pace of reforms is the slowest that it's been in 20 years. In fact, at the current pace of reforms, they're calculating that it would take until 2073 to get to gender equality globally.
Srimathi Sridhar: That's so disheartening to hear.
Raka Banerjee: In the first decade of this century, there were actually a lot of gains in women's legal rights. For example, between 2000 and 2009, there were more than 600 reforms introduced to increased gender equality. Yeah, so from 73 reforms in 2008 alone to just 34 reforms in 2022, it's not looking like there's a lot of positive momentum right now towards gender equality, at least on the legal side. Women only have 77% of the legal rights that men do. And so in terms of countries that have already enshrined gender equality, it's just a small fraction. It's 14 out of the 190 economies covered in the report. And those are all high income OECD countries.
Srimathi Sridhar: I'm wondering also, how do the different categories look then in terms of women's legal rights?
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, so pay and parenthood are the two lowest scoring categories. The global average score for pay is 70, and for parenthood it's 56.4.
Srimathi Sridhar: And out of curiosity, what goes into the parenthood score?
Raka Banerjee: So they basically ask five questions. Is paid leave of at least 14 weeks available to mothers? Does the government pay 100% of maternity leave benefits? Is paid leave available to fathers? Is there paid parental leave, and is dismissal of pregnant workers prohibited?
Srimathi Sridhar: Well, that makes a lot of sense. And the paternity leave question strikes me in particular. As we're looking at women's care work in this episode, it seems like both maternity leave and paternity leave are super important, right? The maternity leave, obviously to ensure that women's care work for their children is paid, but also paternity leave so that care work is not all left to women.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, for sure. And in fact, the team has found that as the gap shrinks between the number of paid leave days that are accorded to men and women, women's labor force participation increases.
Srimathi Sridhar: Oh, amazing. Well, thanks so much for sharing this information with us, Raka.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks.
[04:48] Srimathi Sridhar: Let's now head to India. India has tens of millions of women working in the informal sector, many earning a daily wage.
Raka Banerjee: These women do all kinds of jobs vital to the Indian economy. They could be street vendors, salt miners, working in agriculture and childcare is a huge issue.
Srimathi Sridhar: To understand a bit more about the struggles for women in the informal sector, let's hear from our producer Sarah Treanor.
Sarah Treanor: A busy roadside in an urban center in India. It's a hub of commercial activity.
Jyoti Macwan: So my name is Jyoti Macwan, and originally I come from a tobacco agriculture worker family from Anand district, of Gujarat state. And I am now talking from Ahmedabad. Since from that very trade, I have been elected to be the General Secretary of SEWA.
Sarah Treanor: SEWA represents and campaigns for the rights of millions of Indian women who work in the informal sector. I asked Jyoti to explain a little bit about her experiences of the caring responsibilities shouldered by women while she was growing up.
Jyoti Macwan: My mother was working from around eight o'clock in the morning, and then she would come home back by six. I was elder in the house and we are seven brothers and sisters. So I think it was very difficult for my mother. I had to take care of the younger ones and then go to work and go to studies.
Sarah Treanor: And the life of a tobacco worker as well as for other women in the informal sector is often not an easy one. There are multiple health hazards to contend with, which can also risk the welfare of children.
Jyoti Macwan: Maybe the mother sometimes have to take the children at the workplaces if she has to earn and make the livelihood, or would like to earn that daily wage for cooking food for the family. She has to go to work. So I think they were carrying children to the workplaces and sometimes it was not very well accepted by the employers. And for us, actually, for the tobacco agriculture worker, I would say it was very hazardous because when the mother take the children to the workplaces, the children are always playing around the tobacco plants and also in the smaller factory where the tobacco processing was happening. So I think they were covered for a lot of tobacco dust. Same for the street vendors. How do they carry their children to their workplaces? The street vendors have to go early in the morning, six o'clock in the morning to sell the vegetables. Sometimes they just have to lock them in the houses, lock the door, and they only open when they come back from the workplaces. So while they do that, they were not at peace because they were always worrying of the children who were at home and they were at workplaces.
Sarah Treanor: So how has SEWA helped improve the situation for the tobacco workers and for others? One project is for childcare centers in rural and urban areas like this one you can hear in a tobacco growing village.
Jyoti Macwan: So the childcare centers were started in the villages, and that's how they were able to go regularly to their workplaces. We saw the increase in income because now they were at peace going to work every day. Their productivity was increased and their income was increased. And also now the elder children were able to go to school because they don't have to take care of the younger one.
Sarah Treanor: Jyoti says that for women and for their children to have better opportunities that there needs to be a change in attitude when it comes to care work.
Jyoti Macwan: The recognition of this work is very important and it should not remain unpaid because they also need equally paid for the work what they are doing. I myself have to consider myself as a worker. I should know that I am contributing to my family and to my society and also to the economy of my country. So I think that is very important.
Raka Banerjee: Thanks so much to Jyoti and Sarah. It's really uplifting to hear those sounds of children in the villages.
Srimathi Sridhar: It really is, Raka. But this is not by any means an India specific problem.
[09:16] Srimathi Sridhar: Let's now head to Vietnam where KT from the charity CARE has been involved in running several programs to tackle both practical solutions and prejudice when it comes to sharing the care workload.
Nguyen Thi Kieu Trang (KT): It is the burden for the women in the minority ethnic areas. They cannot look for better job. They cannot spend enough time and effort on paid work, and they're not recognized. They are under a lot of pressures.
Raka Banerjee: So how has CARE been working to better the prospect for women in these rural areas? Two things are helping provide better childcare and also providing access to mechanical farming equipment, which cuts down the time spent in fields.
Nguyen Thi Kieu Trang (KT): And also the other side of the intervention is working on the awareness of local people over there to make them recognize the values of the unpaid care work, the values of sharing and how they can work together within their family to make it less a burden for the woman. The prejudice about the unpaid care work is changing. Men taking care of more of their housework and share with their woman more. They are responding to the core of the whole project, though it takes a lot more time to work on the awareness, but we must do that because it is more and more effective, more sustainable. I myself see the prejudice coming from families is there'll always be grandparents like grandfather who believe into their heart the housework is the woman's task. But still, when the prejudice exist, we must do something about that.
Raka Banerjee: Thanks so much to KT speaking to us from Vietnam.
Srimathi Sridhar: We've really got some interesting stories on perspectives
Raka Banerjee: We have, and it's a picture which is clearly pretty mixed, right? There's still a long way to go.
[11:21] Srimathi Sridhar: Well, to tie it all together for us and give us some context to all of this, we spoke to Laura Rawlings. She's a lead economist in the World Bank's gender group, and she joined us here in the studio in Washington, DC. It's great to have you.
Laura Rawlings: Thanks. It's really nice to be here.
Srimathi Sridhar: You are the lead economist for the World Bank's gender group. Why do you think addressing unpaid care is so critical when we talk about gender inequality?
Laura Rawlings: Well, I think we have to take a look at the trajectory of women's progress, and we can even look back over a series of decades. And what we can see is that the world has made very important and hard won progress in advancing human endowments for women and girls. And I think we've particularly seen this in closing gaps globally in girls' primary and secondary education. So we look at that progress and then we look at what happens after those gaps are closed. And here we see that this progress has not translated into parallel gains in employment and in access to jobs. And in fact, labor force participation globally is around 50% for women versus 80% for men. And these gaps are particularly large in certain regions. For example, in the Middle East and North Africa and South Asia, only two out of 10 women of working age participate in the labor force versus eight out of every 10 men. So that shows that there's a problem. And a lot of the disproportionate distribution of unpaid work and lack of access to affordable quality care is one of the key constraints that we see in holding women back and impacting female labor force participation.
Srimathi Sridhar: Do countries just simply need to step in and get involved more? Or is there more at stake here?
Laura Rawlings: I think there's a lot more at stake, and we like to outline that they're really four dimensions of caregiving, which are critical. Availability, so as you're saying, helping to provide more care, but also access to care is really important. The quality of care is critical. And affordability, of course, which has to do with access. So you need to look at all four of those dimensions. And we also need to look beyond the public sector. So states are absolutely important in helping to tackle unpaid care, but the private sector also has a key role to play as employers, as innovators and as investors. And within the private sector, employers have a responsibility to respect the rights of working parents, safeguarding the health of expectant and nursing mothers. And there's a lot that the private sector can do to support access to quality and affordable care. And we know about this with onsite facilities, childcare subsidies, family friendly workplaces, things like that. Another dimension I'd like to mention beyond provision is the legal and regulatory environment around care. This is very important, and in fact, it's a key metric in our women business and the law work that we use. But that regulatory environment is also critical, and that will apply obviously to public sector provision, but also to private sector provision.
[15:04] Raka Banerjee: Where do we stand around the world on this issue and the issue of unpaid care? And also, if I can add to that, what impact did the pandemic have?
Laura Rawlings: Well, the pandemic was the great revealer. It was not only with the health impact, the labor market impact, but that crisis very much exacerbated care responsibilities and particularly women's care responsibilities. So we saw very starkly through the impact of school closures and childcare centers. This fell much more heavily on working mothers than fathers. We also saw that care was a factor in what we've observed, that there were higher business closures for female business owners with children than for men with children. And according to the international labor organization, about 2 million mothers left the labor market as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. So COVID really was the big revealer about the importance of care and making sure that we have a robust care economy so that parents in particular have a choice about what they do.
Raka Banerjee: And in terms of the pandemic, it's really interesting what you say about it being the big revealer. It makes a lot of sense. I'm wondering if there's any positive aspect of it in that it brought all these issues to light. Do you think it could lead to more positive change now that we've seen how dire the issue is?
Laura Rawlings: Absolutely. I think that's the hope. We've seen how important these issues are, and we care about care, right? These are our loved ones. They're our children, it's the family members that one cares about. So I think the hope is that we've seen this very starkly. That is what COVID revealed, and now we can do something about it. And we can talk about that too, because there's a lot going on in terms of what we're doing in the World Bank Group to highlight and advance these issues. And we've seen a lot of responses also from client governments and the private sector and others, because COVID was a wake-up call. Addressing gender inequality and women's empowerment is integral to development solutions. These are important goals in their own right, but they are also essential elements to responding to these mounting challenges that we see now posed by a whole series of crises. And no country, no community, no economy can achieve its full potential or meet these challenges without the full and equal participation of all members in its society. And if we look at some of the data and some of the estimates here in the World Bank some work by Steven Penning shows that if women's employment were to be increased to the same level as men's, GDP per capita would be almost 20% higher. So this isn't just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do, particularly in the face of a lot of the challenges that our client countries are facing. I think what's exciting is that the future is in our hands. Gender equality is so important to achieving the development outcomes that we want, that we have to pay attention to it. And it's also important to continue to make progress in this area. Progress has slowed and we need to regain momentum. And I think the last point that I would make is that gender equality empowerment isn't just about women. Men not only need to be involved in this, but they're also affected by this. In fact, we see reverse gender gaps emerging in certain areas. For example, in higher education, in terms of attainment, in terms of young men's participation in higher education. So we need to look at gender in a comprehensive way and that it's not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do.
Raka Banerjee: Awesome. Thank you so much.
Laura Rawlings: Thank you.
[19:37] Srimathi Sridhar: That was fascinating and so interesting about the role of men.
Raka Banerjee: Yeah, completely. I really hope that some of the challenges brought to light by the pandemic will continue to get the attention they deserve.
Srimathi Sridhar: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of The Development Podcast from the World Bank Group. I'm Srimathi Sridhar.
Raka Banerjee: And I'm Raka Benerjee. Please get in touch with thoughts, comments, suggestions. We are at email@example.com.
Srimathi Sridhar: And we'll be back next month with a special edition, giving you the highlights from our Spring Meetings. Join us then.
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