Equality and Security
Alleviation of unpaid care work
Recognition, reduction, and redistribution of women’s unpaid care work at home including cleaning, collecting water or firewood, and care of children, older persons, and people with disabilities.
© Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation | Dominique Catton | Girls carrying tree branches to their homes in Adia, Cameroon | 2018
How alleviation of unpaid care work supports women's economic empowerment
Access to income and assets
How alleviation of unpaid care work produces further benefit

Through our research, we identified four high-potential intervention areas for the alleviation of unpaid care work: care services, social norms change, infrastructure and technological solutions, and data. While some interventions are newer and require further experimentation and evidence gathering, many others are immediately scalable and have been shown to work across multiple contexts in both high and lower income settings.

While all four areas are concerned with recognizing, reducing, and redistributing UCW in a more equitable fashion, each has unique considerations that should be taken into account. The recommendations below suggest how progress could be accelerated in each intervention area.

Care services

  • Improve and expand institutional support for caregivers. Government and workplace policies and programs can help women and men better manage their paid and unpaid responsibilities. Actions could include policies to support caregivers (e.g., paid parental leave, paid family medical leave), publicly provided child/elder care programs (e.g., free preschool), and small-scale private and community-based child/elder care.
  • Support development of care economies and needed care infrastructure. Advocating for or directly investing in building a care economy can increase access to affordable, high-quality child and elder care for all segments of society while simultaneously ensuring protections and decent work for care economy workers. Actions could include investing in universal publicly financed early childhood education and care, promoting businesses offering care services, identifying promising business models that reach underserved populations, and developing quality standards for care services and legal protections for care economy workers. Taken together, these actions could help build affordable, high-quality care services all over the world, giving women real alternatives to unpaid care work at home.

Social norms change

  • Accelerate norms change by targeting girls, women, boys, and men. Moving toward social and gender norms that appreciate the value of UCW and normalize UCW by men and boys will lead to greater recognition and redistribution of UCW. Actions could include targeted UCW norms education campaigns for parents and teens as well as national and global public information campaigns focused on shifting UCW norms. The private sector can also play a role by using advertising and marketing to challenge social norms. Policies such as non-transferable parental leave days for men could also help shift prevailing norms on UCW.

Infrastructure and technology

  • Support policies and tools that reduce the drudgery of unpaid work. Supporting the development of accessible time- and energy-saving technologies and infrastructure will ensure that those engaging in UCW around the world can do so efficiently and without unintended negative effects on their health and well-being (e.g., back injuries from carrying heavy loads). Actions could include commitments to develop and maintain water and sanitation infrastructure, support for the development of labor-saving devices such as water-gathering solutions and cookstoves (especially in low-income settings), support for new technological solutions that improve access to necessities such as banking, healthcare, and care services. Accessible and affordable transport is also needed, both for the paid economy (e.g., transport to markets and workplaces) and for health and maternal needs (e.g., travel to healthcare facilities and child care centers).

Data and advocacy

  • Build the case for investing in UCW and attract new players to the space. Developing a more compelling case for investing in UCW that publicizes both the impacts and costs of this work can increase public awareness and encourage donors and other actors to dedicate resources to address it. An increase in donor support for UCW-related efforts could send a powerful signal to the global community. Actions could include encouraging other donors to become involved in this issue area and supporting increased deployment of time-use surveys to get reliable global data on the extent and nature of UCW. Data from these surveys could also be used to assess progress on UN Sustainable Development Goal Target 5.4, which focuses on UCW, and for global research on the broader social, political, and macroeconomic implications of UCW.
Care services: Programa de Estancias Infantiles in Mexico
Social norms change: “Superman is Back” in South Korea
Infrastructure and technology: Water transport in Africa
Data and advocacy: Making Every Woman and Girl Count
Is there a case for action?

Unpaid care work (UCW)—which includes domestic work and direct care of other persons—is necessary for basic survival. While often viewed as a rewarding labor of love, UCW also has tremendous, though largely unrecognized, economic value. As of 2015, UCW throughout the world was estimated to be worth $10 trillion, representing nearly 13 percent of global GDP.

Although UCW is a shared societal responsibility, women and girls do a disproportionate amount UCW in every part of the world, and especially in developing countries. On average, women do three times as much UCW as men, representing nearly four years of additional work over the course of a lifetime.

In low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), unequal responsibility for UCW fundamentally shapes economic empowerment for women as early as adolescence by:

  • Decreasing preparation for paid work in terms of education and skills development. Girls who do more than 4 hours of UCW per day are 28 percent less likely to be in school than those that do two hours a day
  • Limiting their participation (including entry, re-entry, and quality of work) in the labor force. This is particularly true for women who are mothers: one in five economically inactive young women cite family responsibilities as a reason for their inactivity
  • Reducing their pay due to jobs of lower quality, intensity, and remuneration. Working women with children earn 20 percent less than those without (“the motherhood penalty”)
  • Handicapping progress in their chosen paid careers and decreasing their likelihood of achieving leadership positions
  • Diminishing their power by limiting agency and decision-making authority in the home and beyond

Recognition, reduction, and redistribution of UCW could radically accelerate progress toward gender equality. In addition to expanding WEE, such changes could transform men’s relationships with their children by redefining and expanding what it means to be a good father; establish new gender norms that children will observe, learn, and carry forward in their own relationships; and reshape how the private, public, and civil society sectors identify, develop, and retain talent in ways that support UCW responsibilities regardless of gender.

© Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation | Prashant Panjiar | Residents using a well in Bihar, India | 2010