Gendered impact of the Lockdown: An online research series

New Delhi Jun 3 dmanewsdesk : Women’s paid and unpaid work, and their economic participation, is a well-established global priority for gender equality, as reflected in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

SDG Target 5.4 focuses specifically on recognizing and valuing unpaid care work, and SDG Target 5.5 on women’s full participation in economic life.

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Promoting gender equality in care-giving at home, would mean to both recognize and redistribute unpaid care work, which all too often falls to women and girls. Redistribution is essential both to relieve the unequal burden placed on women and girls and to facilitate women’s access to paid work by removing time and service-related barriers and constraints.

While there have been numerous attempts to explain the gendered patterns of time spent on housework and childcare and, although there is support for each of them, none can fully account for the gendered patterns of unpaid work time. There is an opportunity therefore, to recognize and reduce unpaid care work to facilitate women’s engagement in the labour market and to promote women’s empowerment across generations.

Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach (CA) talks about “development as seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy.” Rather than goods and resources, this approach focuses on people and their capabilities, which includes people’s choice, ability, and opportunity to transform resources to achieve functioning. Gender is one of the major alternate perspectives of Sen’s approach. Mainly it describes the equality of outcomes from the perspective of equality of opportunities. It also emphasizes social relationships and institutions as determinants of the “capability spaces” that allow for equal freedoms for different groups of women and men. It also highlights the difficulty of unpacking what “freedom of choice” means in different contexts.[1] 

The way to address time poverty is different for men and women. Women carry out at least two and half times more unpaid household and care work than men.[2] Work in the informal sector, care work and household maintenance all are examples of work that is ignored, even not acknowledged in GDP. Does that mean this work is unimportant? In this scenario, it is important therefore to give visibility to unpaid work in formal statistics, to understand the linkages between paid and unpaid work, the disproportionate amount of time women dedicate to unpaid labour.

Why is such a discourse pertinent, especially in the context of COVID-19?

Source: ILO

The Covid-19 lockdown has resulted in a rapid shift in household functioning and its environment. The roles of both women and men within the household have subsequently undergone significant changes during this period. Even on “normal” days, women face a disproportionate burden of household chores, care responsibility for higher risk groups (children, elderly, disabled, sick, etc.), while participating in the labour market. The current crisis has put additional stress and drudgery for women in dealing with family, work, and mental health related issues during such a time. Women have to shoulder the lion’s share of unpaid work such as home schooling, childcare, and household chores while working (what is categorized as ‘productive work’) at the same time. This is especially relevant in developing countries like India, where the socio- cultural norms are deeply entrenched in many homes, and people still believe that managing a household is a women’s responsibility. In the context of Covid-19 lockdown, more number of people are at home all the time, more people means more food to be cooked, more care needs to be provided in all aspects and therefore it is pertinent to understand who shoulders these responsibilities and the impact it has on those individuals.

Moreover, the economic crisis has created implications for food security, health, and education of women and girls and particularly in a situation where income shrinks, men may be prioritized for availing resources than women. Hence, it may put women’s health and access to opportunities and freedoms at an additional risk. 

This epidemic has also changed the work pattern by introducing digital technology as an integral part of work. It is giving rise to newer challenges for working people from various age categories and professions. Additionally, children are also now switching to online classes and digital learning. Such a shift, exposes India and other such developing countries to a deep digital divide. Many households in these countries do not have a broadband connection at home, and despite many parents having mobile internet connectivity, still, it may not be sufficient to reach everyone. Such a situation is bound to affect girls in India disproportionately, owing to the fact that girls are less likely than boys to have access to internet as well as digital devices. 

The impact of a global pandemic on the economy, health and digital use needs to be understood and subsequently reflected upon so that interventions that are implemented in practice can address the emerging challenges and utilize the opportunities presented; they need to be reflected in the planning tools that determine the design of intervention and the process of planning activities that provide space for the inclusion of needs of different social groups.

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In this context, recognizing that the pandemic has created significant shifts in people’s behaviour and their surroundings, Nil, the design lab at NRMC is conducting a time use survey to explore the gendered impact of the lockdown within the household across geographies. 

This Time-Use Survey has been designed to record the daily activities of members of a household to uncover how paid and unpaid labour duties, care works, leisure and personal needs, transportation, are divided up among family members.

Importance of Time use survey

A Time Use Survey (TUS) is a multi-purpose survey, which provides an overview of people’s time use over a specific period. TUS reflects the daily life details of the individual, which do not appear in any other type of surveys and studies.[3]

This survey will enable measuring time spent by individuals on paid and unpaid activities such as formal labour, voluntary work, social and cultural activities, housekeeping and personal work, leisure time, mobility, etc. It will be an important source of information on the time spent doing unpaid caregiving activities, unpaid volunteer work and unpaid domestic service-producing activities of the household members. Moreover, the TUS will provide insights on the amount of time spent on learning, socializing, leisure activities, self-care activities, etc. by the household members. It will further help in understanding individual and household behaviour, especially with respect to time allocation decisions.

Current Discourse on Paid and Unpaid Work in India

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While the table above depicts the discourse in the Indian context, there are similar discourses across other countries as well.

Considering the above mentioned studies and findings, it is relevant to understand how such a crisis affects people across gender, age, class and caste categories in different ways. The study will therefore attempt to unveil the existing gendered division of labour and gender norms prevalent in the society and the impact of Covid-19 on the same. This study will also distinguish equality of outcomes from equality of opportunities and explore the behavioural patterns between genders.

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Offerings of Nil’s Time-Use Survey in the context of Covid- 19

Given the universal impact of a pandemic like Covid-19 as well as the global applicability of the discourse on paid and unpaid work, Nil’s research attempts to reach international audiences and cover respondents globally. The primary objective of the TUS is to measure the participation of men/ boys, women/girls and other groups of persons in paid and unpaid activities. This will be an important source of information on the time spent doing unpaid care activities, which often remains unrecognized and undervalued. In this regard, Nil’s TUS will offer a detailed portrait of how each member in a household spends their time, what activities they engage in and its gendered implications. Such data will powerfully illustrate the unevenly distributed burden of work. Additionally, Nil’s TUS would also be a powerful source for policy makers and development partners to develop policies, strategies, and interventions that address the needs of women and men in the country. 

As part of the larger Online Research Series, Nil will be conducting the following researches to uncover the gendered impact of the lockdown. This will include aspects such as:

a)     time use pattern for paid and unpaid care work

b)    nutritional pattern based on daily consumption (because women are at higher risk of malnutrition during health emergencies)

c)     digital access and ease of using technology (especially owing to intersections of gender and socio economic background worsening the situation for adolescent girls from poor families).

d)    access to leisure or entertainment to understand the source and time spent for doing such activities including the aspect of ‘choice’ and ‘autonomy’.

Use of Nil’s online research series at a glance

This distribution of paid and unpaid work between men and women determines the hierarchy within the household. This hierarchical gender relation is one of the most pervasive sources of inequality. Therefore, one of the objectives of Nil’s Time Use Survey is to determine gender equalities/inequalities in paid and unpaid work.

This research series can contribute in the following aspects:

1. Strengthen the ongoing discourse around the gendered impact of lockdown with real time data.

2. Advocacy with relevant government ministries/departments for appropriate interventions or policies

3. Knowledge sharing/thought leadership with larger strategic group through webinar and other platforms

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About Nil

Nil is a design lab with a purpose to co-create human-centric solutions that address some of the most prevalent, complex and behaviour oriented problems.

Nil or Zero is the starting point of all creation. Imagination and ideation know no bounds when starting at nil, allowing experimentation to unfold and innovation to thrive. From this vantage point, the possibilities of creating positive and sustained impact are limitless.

At Nil, we strive to build a world which transcends barriers and brings freedom and opportunity to all.

Nil is borne out of 15 years of immersive and on-ground experience of NRMC in catalysing impact. NRMC is a social development advisory that uses an evidence based approach to design, implement, and deliver sustainable solutions to today’s development challenges. NRMC strives to achieve results at scale by catalysing partnership with communities, enhancing models of service provision, and establishing last mile service delivery mechanisms.

Source: Nil- A design lab at NRMC