“Really recognizing the work of women and girls” (article for International Women’s Day, appeared in The Fiji Times, 8 March 2015 as “Women’s day, every single day”)
Really recognizing the work of women and girls
(appeared in FT, 9 March 2015 as “Women’s day, every single day”)
Professor Wadan Narsey
Most people know the cliché: “behind every great man is a great woman” and some might know the feminists’ version “behind every great woman is no one”.
But it is not the “great” women (or men) that society should be recognizing.
Society, or rather men and boys, should be recognizing the grinding unpaid work that most ordinary women and girls perform every day, all year long (and also done by some men and boys).
This unpaid work contribution is rarely recognized by national GDP accounts or given credit in any real meaningful way, other than lip service on the International Day for Women (8 March) or Mothers’ Day.
This article is written to encourage men and boys to change their lives and be fair to their women folk, on a daily basis for the whole year, and not just for one day, today or Mothers’ Day.
The only accurate national data that tells you who does what work in the Fiji economy, is given by the Employment and Unemployment Surveys (EUS) conducted by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics (FBS).
The Report on the 2004-05 EUS was published several years ago, but the Report on the 2010-11 EUS (Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leisure) has not been published though it was ready in October 2013.
This Report’s results on employment (paid and unpaid) are similar to those for 2004-05, but it also has fascinating new results on time spent by women and men on leisure activities such as religious gatherings, watching television, sports, and kava drinking, bits of which I shall draw on here.
Wherever I refer to “women” I also include girls, and where I refer to “men”, it also includes “boys”, over the age of 14.
The usual economic statistics
All countries publish statistics on their “labor force” or “economically active”, whose definitions rarely give women and girls a fair go.
For Fiji in 2010-11, women were allegedly only 36% of the Labor Force as defined by statisticians and current national accounts methodology.
Thus 64% of the Labor Force were men. But does this mean that 64% of the work was done by men? Nope.
This “Labor Force” or “Economically Active” refers only to “paid work”, rewarded in money or kind, however low may be the recorded values.
It does not include unpaid work in households.
Unpaid Household Work
The unpaid household work refers to cooking, child care, washing clothes, housecleaning, gardening, and other “chores”, done by women AND men.
The word “chore” itself gives an impression of tedious and unimportant work, BUT the data indicates it is far from unimportant.
Aggregating all the household work done by full-time household workers (nearly 99% females) and economically active persons in the labor force (35% females) in terms of hours spent, the household work would require roughly, at 40 hours per week per person, as many people as are classified as “Economically Active”.
There is as much time spent on unpaid household work, as is spent on paid work in the Fiji economy.
Some 74% of this unpaid household work is done by females, but males also do 26% (they are not a dead loss).
The dollar value of this unpaid household work can be anywhere from 17% of Fiji’s GDP (if you use the incomes of full-time household workers) or 33% of Fiji’s GDP (if you value all the components of household work at market values).
Of course, this does not include any monetary value on sexual services at market value, rendered by either women or men, when they are “not in the mood”.
Despite many great resolutions passed by UN Women, this unpaid work in the economy is still not fully valued and integrated into the formal National Accounts of even developed countries, let alone Fiji.
Who does the HH Work?
Only 32% of Unpaid Household Work is done by full-time household workers.
A massive 53% is done by “Economically Active” persons or those classified as part of the Labor Force (with working females doing 14 to 28 hours per week more than working males).
8% is done by full-time students (females doing some 3 to 4 hours per week more than boys).
Some 7% is done by those not working (females doing some 3 to 4 hours per week more).
Total work done in Fiji
If we go by time spent on paid and unpaid work in Fiji, the aggregate results indicate that
Females do 20% more work than males in Fiji.
This margin is some 14 hours per week for female wage and salary earners, around 20 hours per week for females in the informal sector, and even 3 hours per week for full-time students.
Progress can be made in all these last three categories.
But first, what do the males do with their “extra available” time?
The 2010-11 EUS results indicate that both females and males spend equivalent times (and lots of it) on religious gatherings and watching television?
But men spend far more time on kava gatherings (3 to 4 hours more per week) than females.
Men also spend more time on sports (around 3 hours per week more) than females.
Way forward for men and boys
The bulk of the unpaid household work by time is spent on cooking and child care.
Working men can do a lot to bring about gender equality by doing just 7 hours extra per week (that is just 1 hour extra per day) and boys could do just 2 hours extra per week.
Cooking and child care are two areas where men and boys can easily make up the difference, but there is absolutely no reason why men and boys should not be doing their fair share of washing clothes and cleaning the house.
I can vouch personally that if males are fair to their females in all this unpaid household work, it will have an immense positive impact on the quality of their relationships not just with their partners, but also with their children.
This will also free up women and girls to engage in more leisure activities like sports which will probably have a great impact on female health and form (both of which are under great stress currently).
It will also have a positive impact on women’s professional development, which should improve gender equality in higher level employment.
But such changes can only occur if men and boys are fair to the women and girls on a daily basis, and not just by paying lip service on the International Day for Women (although I suspect most women appreciate that also).