ActionAid Bangladesh and the Centre for Gender and Social Transformation (CGST) of BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) carried out a study on time usage of rural women and men in Lalmonirhat and Gaibandha, over the period of November 2013 to October 2014. The study compared the time spent on different categories of activities by gender, age, marital status, education and occupation.
The primary objective of the study was to assess the amount of labor that goes into ‘care’ work and to demonstrate the unequal responsibility and burden borne by men and women in the provision of this work.
The study primarily used a time diary tool which was contextualised by CGST. Ten sub-categories were developed under three broad categories: Care Work (Unpaid), Productive Work and Non- productive Work. This was supplemented by limited observations of respondents to validate the time diary data.
In Lalmonirhat the time use data were collected from 120 respondents of 16 Reflect Groups from two unions under the Sadar Upazila. In Gaibandha the data was collected from 185 respondents of 25 Reflect Groups from four unions under the Fulchori Upazila.
In addition, time use data for both areas were collected from 10 women and their husbands residing within the same unions who were not members of any reflect group but were of similar socio economic status as a control group.
In Gaibandha there were 134 women and 71 men, while in Lalmonirhat there were 90 women and 50 men.
The most striking outcome of the analysis is that men spend far less time in care work (1 hr) and more time in productive work (8 hrs) compared to women (almost 6 hrs in unpaid care work and 5 hrs in productive work) . However sleep and rest time is similar for men and women.
Women in Lalmonirhat spend on average 1.5 hours more time in care work and 0.7 hours more on productive work, and 1.5 hours less time on leisure compared to women in Gaibandha. Men in Lalmonirhat also spend more time in productive work (by 1 hour) compared to men in Gaibandha.
There are seasonal variations in time spent between women and men. Women spend more time in productive work in summer (March-June) and men spend more time in winter (Nov-Feb). Both men and women spend less time in productive work during the rainy season (July-Oct) when leisure time abundant.
In Lalmonirhat women spend more time in care work in winter where as men’s time in care work is slightly higher during the rainy season. Unlike women in Gaibandha the time-use of women in Lalmonirhat in productive work is higher in summer (March-June) and for men in winter (Nov-Feb), possibly because of the Boro and Amon crop. Leisure is higher in the rainy season (July-Oct), when there is less agricultural activity for both men and women.
In both areas, women spent less time in care work and more time in productive work as older they get. Married women spend more time in care work and less time in productive work compared to widowed/ separated women in both areas. Women with very less education spend more time in care work and less time in productive work compared to women with no education.
Older men in Gaibandha tend to spend more time in care work. However in Lalmonirhat time spent by men in care work decreases with age. In both areas, men who have secondary education spend more time in care and productive work. But surprisingly men who had SSC/HSC degree spend nearly two hours less in productive work, less time in care work and utilize more leisure time. Farmers spent more time in care work and day labourers spend less than businessmen, but the later two occupations spend more time in productive work in both areas.
In both areas women in female headed and extended households having no children less than 6 years of age were seen to spend more time in productive work. In both areas, men in nuclear households and with young children in the family spend more time in productive work.
Members of the reflect groups including their husbands in Lalmonirhat relatively spend more time in care work. The opposite was true for Gaibandha.
In both areas, some male family members help the women (on average 4%) in paid work and livestock rearing. It is mainly the female members of the family, mostly daughters with a lesser extent daughter-in-laws, who help in cooking and household chores. Wives are most likely to help their husbands in their paid work.
After the project intervention, a positive change was witnessed that suggests the attitudes towards women were becoming more favourable in both Gaibandha and Lalmonirhat than before. But most men from Gaibandha still believed that men’s work is more important than women’s and they have can beat their wives if they are displeased.
The comparison of the information collected through observation and the information collected through the previous day’s recall (recall method) shows that the recall method gave a good approximation of what people spent time on and how long.
In few cases of the observations, respondents were found to spend more time on care activities than they reported and in a few cases the study team found that the respondents had not mentioned breastfeeding infants, looking after their elderly parents or men feeding his children (which the observers had witnessed).
Men’s lesser involvement in care activities is also corroborated in the observation reports. However, some men were observed sweeping the courtyards, feeding the children and washing the clothes. The observers did not seem to find instances of men doing more care work than they reported through recall. The observations were able to confirm that the data obtained through time diaries using the recall method is valid.
Looking beyond the study findings to their implications for future action a number of points can be made:
1. The year long time dairies collected have confirmed that women have less flexibility and face more difficult trade-offs with respect to allocating time between care and productive work compared to men. Recognizing the importance of care work for development and wellbeing is a priority. The study findings should be used to prepare advocacy messages for families and communities to acknowledge the value of care work and the time given for such purpose.
2. Another implication of the study findings is that under the existing gender pattern of time use women in rural areas cannot devote more time to productive work even if they want to. Therefore, women would need to be released from some part of their care work burden if they want to be involved to a greater extent in income generating activities.
The seasonal variations show that even when women’s productive workload is highest during the agricultural seasons for example, their unpaid care work load is not reduced. The reduction of women’s unpaid care work might be partially possible if male family members take up a share of care work in the family, but given that they spend long hours in productive work this would be difficult, unless they are willing to reduce their leisure time to some extent.
3. Finally, attempts should be made to reduce care work burdens without compromising quality and increasing household and individual expenditures. There could be a role government and community services and infrastructure such as more affordable and safe public transport for women to commute to work, as well as if the community provided and monitored child and elderly care services that are affordable and accessible.