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BY: Nghiinomenwa Erastus

Macroeconomic behaviour and ordinary markets function cannot be understood without recognising gender differences because of unpaid labour.

These are the findings of Jayati Ghosh, professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts- whose work on women’s economic status shows that unrecognised caregivers, disproportionately women, provide the base to the economy.

She documented the connection between the care economy and the income gender gap.

She was speaking through the Women in Economics podcast produced by the International Monetary Fund last week.

Ghosh work looks at why care work is rarely captured in GDP and how the vision of productivity is skewed.

She said, “gender has been seen as a sort of separate silo, or even dare I say it a ghetto in economic studies”.

While adding that without adequate provision of care, “you don’t just have unhappy and unhealthy societies, you have economies that are not resilient, that collapse”.

She said societies have historically handled care work by creating a whole set of the gender construction of society.

The responsibility of care is given to women and girls, for free or not viewed as an economic activity.

Ghosh said if work is defined by how much one earns- then the people who do a lot of unpaid work, which dominantly care work, are automatically devalued by society or considered not working.

Even if they recognise that it’s essential for individual wellbeing, it’s not seen as economically productive.

So that’s first, is that the women get devalued because they are devalued by society and by the economy when they perform care work.

While if paid, they earn lower wages, highlighted Ghosh.

These activities include domestic work, nursing, childcare, and looking after kindergartens.

The economic lecture highlighted that the fact that women do all this unpaid care work contradicts some of the basic principles of economics.

In much mainstream economics, neoclassical economics is broadly based on methodological individualism- the individual maximises their utility.

The reason economies are getting away with the current status quo is that they ignore entirely care work.

Ghosh explained that as a result, the massive decline in women’s workforce participation is observed, as women are packed with unpaid work.

“A huge part of that is related to an increase in the number of women who are doing unpaid work at home,” said the researcher.

The International Labour Organization has recognised work, including all care and extended care activities, which means the household duties- cooking and cleaning.

Moreover, looking after the young, the old, the sick, fetching water, fetching fuel wood, kitchen, gardening, poultry raising all of these activities.

Ghosh also explained the existence of globalisation of care.

“We have a value chain in care services now,” she said.

Women in professional occupations, in advanced economies who can hire out, outsource their care work to, let’s say, live-in maids, who are often immigrants.

These immigrant maids come from developing countries where they have left families behind, and they can send back remittances, which enables that family to then hire in some other live-in maid or part-time maid or whatever.

That part-time maid often has a family to look after, and that work will then be done in an unpaid fashion by her mother, sister, and child.

So there is a global value chain even in care.

As a result, the researcher found that it has been very important in enabling women’s greater labour market involvement in the north.

Ghosh also found that public policy doesn’t even factor in time poverty as an aspect of multidimensional poverty.

She said the omission reduces the economic ability to engage many more women in more qualified, creative, and productive activities.

“Because you’re confining them to what is ultimately a lot of drudgeries,” stated Ghosh.

She said there are some good bits to care-work it was more, fairly and equally redistributed.

“You would actually get more women being able to work, contributing more to economic activity,” the researcher highlighted.

Ghosh said the solution is to recognise care work, acknowledge that it exists then reduce the unpaid work as much as possible through public policy.

This will require the public provision of things like childcare or things like elderly care.

While at the household level, redistribute the chores between household members.

To free up women’s time to do other things, she said.

Then forth, by rewarding the care workers who are participating in the sector.

Finally, represent care workers and give them a voice, including the unpaid care workers, advised Ghosh.

“Governments don’t do this because they suddenly feel good. They do this because they have to,” she added.

Julia Heita

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