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Summary of Policy Review Report on WEE and UCW in South Asia

Summary of Policy Review Report on WEE and UCW in South Asia. The gendered nature and unequal burden of Unpaid Care Work (UCW) is a key challenge to attaining women’s economic empowerment (WEE) in South Asia.

Given the disproportionate amount of time poor rural women in South Asia spend on Unpaid Care Work, they are unable to secure safe, fair employment, and are often forced to compromise their health and leisure time to secure paid work. Any strategies to achieve women’s economic empowerment in rural South Asia must therefore take into consideration Unpaid Care Work and its impacts on women in the region.

Unpaid Care Work is an inherently gendered phenomenon: a clear majority of uncompensated, unrecognised and undervalued care work is carried out by women. Among the 3 countries of South Asia, for example, position of women of Nepal is first (6.6 hours, AAI study 2013), Bangladesh is second (6.3 hours, AAB study 2015) and India is third (5.1 hours, AAI study 2015) in terms of spending time per day in unpaid care work.

On the other hand, men are spend time on Unpaid Care Work per day 2.1 hours in Nepal, 1.1 hours in Bangladesh, and 0.4 (24 minutes) in India. The gender gap based on above data on time spent in unpaid care work between men and women in South Asia is highest in Bangladesh (5.2 hours), second highest in India (4.7 hours) and lowest in Nepal (4.5 hours).

If we apply the International Labor Organisation (ILO) norms of 48 hours a week, as per the surveys used, women are highly time stretched, and in excess of ILO’s stipulated maximum, while men are within the limits of the norm. Women get much less personal or leisure time a day, and less time to sleep and rest as a result.

Most of the population of South Asia are living in rural areas like in Bangladesh three quarters of total population, in Pakistan it is more than 80% ( in_Pakistan) are living in rural area. In south Asia on an average near about 57% of rural women work in the informal agricultural sector (FAO 2016) and the unpaid care economy, and experience seclusion and limited mobility, with little or no access to information, skills training, and credit opportunities.

When women do enter the paid workforce in order to access economic empowerment, they are confronted by a double burden: the challenge of balancing household, childcare and eldercare; and paid work responsibilities. This often results in women and girls forgoing their basic rights to access education, healthcare, decent work and leisure time.

This in turn perpetuates cycles of dependency (mostly on male members of the family), can reinforce gender inequality and violence against women, and keeps women and girls disproportionately tied to conditions of poverty.

In this backdrop, there are several regional and national level actors and policies in place for the promotion of women’s economic empowerment in South Asia, for example SAARC, UNESCAP and IFAD. While these organisations, and the frameworks put forth by them, provide a strong basis for the achievement of women’s economic empowerment, there are certain gaps in their ability to attain their goals.

1. SAARC guidine policies are MOU between SAARC and UN Women, SAARC Social Charter, SAARC Development Goals, SAARC Gender Policy Advisory Groups etc neglect the effects of Unpaid Care Work on women’s empowerment particularly women economic empowerment (WEE).

2. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP): This UN entity has policy frameworks- like Asia-Pacific Dialogue on Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work, Women in Asia and the Pacific: Challenges and Priorities, Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Asia-Pacific Progress and Challenges etc- has a good deal of work on women’s empowerment deals with women’s entrepreneurship, an area that (i) is particularly challenging due to Unpaid Care Work realities and (ii) needs to be thought through within the context of the rural agrarian economy within which the poorest, most marginal, and largest population of women in South Asia operate.

3. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD): It as UN concerned is a key vehicle to address issues of women’s empowerment within the rural agrarian context. IFAD’s ‘Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Policy’ presents the basis from which to incorporate considerations of Unpaid Care Work (through objective c. Achieve more equitable balance in workloads and in the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men.), but does not go far enough in identifying intersectional challenges for the rural poor women, and their vulnerability to climate change.

4. Beside these gaps of the policy and programme, the regional bodies are also
a. Failing to identify the links between women’s economic empowerment and violence against women
b. Neglecting the importance of Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture for poor rural women
c. Making certain false assumptions around empowerment strategies
d. Overlooking to challenge exploitative labour market structures
e. Not recognizing adoption of an intersectional approach to economic empowerment

Key recommendations

1. Recognise, reduce and redistribute women’s Unpaid Care Work in regional frameworks and National policies like counting Unpaid Care work in GDP. For redistribution require national level gender responsive public services like day care, disability care allowance, renewable energy saving cooking technologies, health care, WASH, etc

2. Include Climate Resilient Strategies. Given the disproportionate dependence on agriculture for poor rural women in South Asia, any policy to empower them must invest in sustainable methods to ensure protection from climate related vulnerabilities, and encourage climate resilient practices.

3. Ensure a consideration of intersectionality of issues affecting women’s empowerment and the intersectionality of women’s identities. An intersectional approach is attentive to the linkages between Unpaid Care Work, Violence Against Women, Climate Resilient Sustainable Agriculture, and women’s economic empowerment. Interventions must also include consider the intersectionality of women’s identities as mothers, farmers, workers and living with disability and others, so that a holistic approach is undertaken when working with rural women.

4. Reduce physical and safety related vulnerabilities for rural women. It is important that women have a safe working environment, free from violence and harassment, and security in mobility and participation.

5. Represent women in planning. Women should have a stake and a say in crucial processes of decision making, including the types of jobs created and made available to them, and the macro-economic climate within which labour is transacted.

6. Challenge existing labour market structures. Regional and national civil society actors must constantly question the assumption that focusing on inclusion into the existing neoliberal, often exploitative, market labour force will necessarily lead to positive empowerment outcomes.

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