The burden of unpaid care work

According to OFXAM household surveys, women spend an average of five hours daily on primary care compared to about one hour a day reported by men. The notion that women are responsible for these tasks has been perennial due to gender stereotypes and norms deeply rooted in society. This article highlights the inequalities that are brought about by unpaid care work in Kenya.

Unpaid care work encompasses all services provided for free within a household for its members, including housework and volunteer community service (OECD, 2014).  It entails caring for children, the elderly, and the sick. It also includes laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, and cleaning. Women and girls devote a disproportionate amount of time to unpaid care work compared to men. This is because gender norms reinforce the notion that women’s and girls’ roles are limited to the home.

Although unpaid care work is critical for households and economies to thrive, it remains invisible and undervalued. According to Global Citizen, the total value of unpaid care work is estimated to be between 10% and 39% of the Gross Domestic Product. When recognized, it will have a greater economic impact than sectors such as manufacturing, commerce, and transportation.

The burden of unpaid care work aggravates women’s time in poverty, severely limiting their ability to participate in various political, social and economic activities. Time poverty is a lack of discretionary time brought about by inequitable gender-biased allocation of unpaid labor and it mostly affects women. When women devote their time to unpaid care work, they lose valuable time that could be used to increase sustainable productivity, learn how to assert their rights, and participate in decision-making. Not only does time poverty limit women as individuals, but it also prevents the community and country from benefiting from the talents and productivity that women would bring to the formal sector. Women in Kenya’s informal settlements and rural areas bear the burden of unpaid care work and lack time for personal or leisure rest and sleep, which harms their health.

Many care-related tasks are performed by women in the morning between 5 a.m. and 11 a.m., which is considered the best time to find paid work. To balance their care burden, women are frequently forced to accept perilous, flexible, and low-wage work. (Action aid). Thus, poor rural women and women living in urban informal settlements face several barriers to finding fair and reasonably paid work. As a result, gendered jobs emerge, and the wage gap between men and women widens.

Once women join the paid labor force to gain economic empowerment, they face a triple burden: balancing household childcare and elder care with paid work responsibilities and engaging in community work. This frequently leads to women and girls foregoing their fundamental rights to education or furthering their studies, health care, decent work, and leisure time. This perpetuates the cycle of dependency, primarily on male family members, and can exacerbate gender inequality and violence against women. This keeps women and girls disproportionately vulnerable to poverty.

Children’s well-being is seriously impacted by the unequal gender distribution of unpaid care duties. It restricts girls’ time for leisure, personal growth, and learning, depriving them of equal possibilities to succeed. These limitations and missed opportunities will affect a girl’s life well beyond childhood, possibly affecting her socioeconomic prospects, choices, and accomplishments as an adult — as well as the welfare of her children, should she become a mother. They are also likely to have an impact on boys, as they may adopt a skewed perception of the value of girls’ versus boys’ time and develop into limited roles as fathers and caregivers.

There is still work to be done to guarantee that Kenya completely tackles the disparities caused by unpaid care work and advances gender equality, even though various interventions have been made to recognize, lessen, and redistribute the burden of unpaid care work.


Actionaid International. Unpaid care and domestic work: who it affects and why it’s a problem.

Ferrant, G., Pesando, L. M., & Nowacka, K. (2014). Unpaid Care Work: The missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labor outcomes. Boulogne Billancourt: OECD Development Center.

Rodriguez, L. (2021). Unpaid Care Work: Everything You Need to Know. Global citizen

Oloo, R., & Parkes, A. (2021). Addressing unpaid care and domestic work for a gender-equal and inclusive Kenya. OXFAM.

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