Saturday, 14 July 2012

Gender Inequalities in Unpaid Care

In a heterogeneous global society where interests vary by sex, race, class, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among others, achieving equality across all differentials is a difficult task. Nonetheless, state policies should aim to at least ameliorate the existing inequalities, if not eliminate them. With regards to contemporary gender inequalities, feminist scholarship is highly contested and studies continue to theoretically and empirically question the different forms of patriarchal structures and practices prevalent in the society. I seek to highlight gender inequalities embedded in unpaid caring responsibilities within the household where unpaid care work is conceptualised as ‘unpaid domestic or personal services provided through the social relations of care and kinship.

Today’s family structures are multi-dimensional where heterosexuals are marrying less and later, divorce rates are soaring, solo-mother families are on the rise, homosexuals are forming new domestic arrangements, and women, both married and unmarried, are entering the labour force. While the increasing rate of women’s labour force participation is resulting in a decline in patriarchy within the family, unpaid caring responsibilities continue to be gendered. Women continue to spend much more time in unpaid care work than men, including household chores, childcare, and care of sick and elderly family members. In fact, European Commission Report notes that women do more unpaid care work than men and even when both are employed, women still spend more time in unpaid care work. The gendered distribution of unpaid care work is also reflected in data collected through national time use surveys in fourteen European countries where on average women aged 25 to 44 spend 60 minutes on childcare per day which is three times the amount of time men spend on childcare and 162 minutes more per day preparing food, washing dishes, and cleaning the house.

Gender differentials in unpaid care work have financial implications for women. Caring for others limits women’s participation in the labour market when unpaid care work is substantial and potential wages are too low for women to leave their homes to enter the labour market. Such limitations arising from sex segregation in the labour markets, wage gaps, and insufficient social protection have repercussions for women in the form of forgone wages. These forgone wages reduce lifetime earnings for women which further affect their savings through reduced pensions. Moreover, when women return to work their wage level may be less, because of the loss in work experience or discrimination by employers against mothers. If women resort to part-time work, as most of them do, the work pays less compared to full time.

In light of such gender inequalities in unpaid care, state policies should redress the burden of unpaid caring performed by women through effective social policies. While state legislations contend to create greater equality, in practice, the dominant ideology focuses on the equality of opportunity rather than the equality of outcome. The Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts, for example, allow women to enter the labour market, but cannot overcome structural impediments such as sex segregation by occupation and wage gaps#. It is not surprising, therefore, that women continue to struggle with the ‘feminization of poverty’.

By Afifa Faisal

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