Labour and Employment Ministers’ Meeting

"Tackling the large gender gap in unpaid work is possible"

Women spend far more time than men on household chores and other unpaid work, which means they have less time to devote on paid employment, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder said. Speaking at a meeting of G20 Labour and Employment Ministers in Japan, he outlined steps that can address this gender gap.

Statement | Matsuyama, Japan | 02 September 2019

Thematic Session 4: Gender equality: Additional analysis from the time dimension

Thank you Minister for giving me the floor, in order to supplement the two presentations we have just heard. I would like to address the time dimension to these questions, an issue that does not get the attention it merits.

Everywhere in the world, women do most of the household chores and the care of family members – what we call unpaid work. It takes up an average of four hours every single day. In Australia, Italy and Turkey, unpaid work by women takes up over 5 hours every day. There is not a country in the world where men spend as much time as women on unpaid work. In G20 countries, women spend on average 2 ½ hours more than men on unpaid work. Why does it matter?

In addition to the obvious unfairness involved, it’s because women don’t have time to spend on other important things, like going to school or earning an income to support their families or upgrading their skills. The more time women spend on unpaid work, the less time they devote to paid employment. And this creates gender inequalities.

Women tend to have a higher share of part-time employment, as we just heard. Men, in contrast, are more likely to work very long hours, including across the G20 countries.

Gender differences in the number of hours devoted to paid work start to widen with the arrival of the first child – while men’s working hours are not affected by the number of young children, women’s hours of paid work decline.

Fortunately, there are steps that we can take to address these problems.

We think they can be categorized as the three Rs: Recognize, Reduce and Redistribute.

“Recognize” means bringing out the hidden assumptions about how women and men should spend their time. There is a long road ahead in changing stereotypes and norms around chores and caregiving - but campaigns and awareness raising can help address them. Public awareness-raising campaigns, such as those carried out in Australia and the Republic of Korea, using a mix of traditional and on-line media channels, have proven effective. They can reduce bias against male caregivers and highlight women workers’ significant contribution to family income and to national GDP.

“Recognize” also means that we measure all forms of work so as to recognize their value, including unpaid work. And we need more data for better measurement. More frequent time-use surveys, better collection of data on fathers’ leave taking, and public opinion surveys before and after a public awareness campaign, could be particularly useful to monitor and to assess the situation and the impact that public policies are having. In addition, recognising unpaid work requires it to be taken into account in macroeconomic analysis and decision-making. This would help uncover the effects of apparently gender-neutral macroeconomic policies on women and men, and identify and correct gender and care provision biases in budgetary and tax policy. In times of crisis, when cuts in public spending on care policies can have a disproportionate effect on women as they did in many countries in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, it would enable measures to be taken to pre-empt that development.

The second of the three Rs is Reduce.

Reduce refers to making unpaid work take less time.

Where chores are very time consuming – and I give the example of when women have to walk miles to fetch water or firewood, which is a predominant issue in much of the developing world – a priority is to reduce their drudgery by investing in the public provision of water or energy sources. This is one example of how greater investment in infrastructure can reduce gender inequalities.

In addition, Ministers, our data shows that the amount of time women spend on unpaid work increases with motherhood, in particular with the presence of children under five years old. We know that in G20 countries, the employment rate of women with young children increases in relation to the number of children enrolled in early childhood education and in care. The availability, the affordability and the quality of early childhood public services is therefore crucial for reducing women’s unpaid work responsibilities.

Childcare needs do not end once children start school; out-of-school care services are also required. In the absence of good quality and affordable out-of-school care services, many parents (usually mothers) are forced to work reduced hours or find private solutions. Among OECD countries, Denmark and Sweden have the most advanced out-of-school-hours care systems, with almost two-thirds of children between the ages of 6 and 11 attending such centres, compared to fewer than one in four in France, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Nor should we not limit ourselves to child care. The right to universal access to quality care services needs to be guaranteed across the board. Women are more likely to engage in paid employment when public expenditures on pre-primary education, long-term care services and benefits, and maternity, disability, sickness and employment injury benefits are higher. Investment in quality care services, care policies and care-relevant infrastructure is therefore crucially important to reducing the time spent on unpaid care work.

Active labour market policies that support the reintegration of unpaid carers into the labour force are equally important. Employment services need to take into account the needs of people with care responsibilities. In the Russian Federation, for example, employment services provide vocational training, retraining, skills upgrading and vocational guidance for women on parental leave with children under the age of three years.

And making family-friendly working arrangements universally accessible to all workers can play a crucial role in increasing participation or retention in paid work. These arrangements also contribute to reducing the negative outcomes for health and well-being resulting from a poor work-life balance. The promotion and regulation of good quality telework, ICT-mobile work and part-time work, and the promotion of flexitime arrangements are among the steps we can address.

And the third of the three Rs is Redistribute.

“Redistribute” means men and women sharing unpaid work within the household more equally.

Our data shows that when the difference in time spent on unpaid work between men and women is smaller, women’s paid employment is higher. So if we can eliminate the gender gap in unpaid work, getting more women into paid work becomes more possible.

Gender-responsive and publicly funded leave policies for all women and men can go a long way to achieving this.

Paid parental leave is a key driver in influencing the division of labour immediately after childbirth. Most paid leave policies have historically been targeted at mothers, and maternity leave remains essential to protect the health of mothers and their new-born children, as well as to help keep working mothers connected to the labour market following childbirth.

Paid leave directed at, and preferably reserved for fathers, is also important. Evidence from across the OECD suggests that fathers who take leave are more likely to be involved in childcare activities lasting beyond the leave period. In a growing number of G20 countries, a “fathers’ only” paid leave encourages men to share more equally the time spent on childcare within the household.

In conclusion, Ministers, tackling the large gender gap in unpaid work is possible and I’ve outlined here today a number of steps that we can take. All of these can help in achieving the Brisbane goal.

I thank you for your attention.