How come women’s unpaid work is considered unimportant to the development of society and isn’t counted within its GNP.
Despite common belief, there has never been a time in history where women did not work. The work done by women that usually gets disregarded is that of unpaid domestic nature. Unpaid work is usually defined as the work that is done within the household, such as cleaning, sewing, cooking, and cultivating one’s own land. In history, women took on the roles of nurturers to both children and land. They carried children in their womb, raised them, and contributed to the agricultural development of society. In modern society, the contribution of women in the domestic realm continues to be disregarded despite the constant calls for the advancement of women.
In 1995, the Human Development Report released by the United Nations Development Programme stated that there is a skewed distribution of work between men and women. Women’s burden of work accounts for over 50% in both developing and industrial countries. Moreover, roughly two-thirds of women’s work is unpaid, creating a gender disparity in the workforce. The unpaid work mentioned above is done in the private sphere, that is the household; therefore, deeming it invaluable to the public sphere.
However, unpaid work, although unaccounted for in the Gross National Production (GNP) is of extreme value. Lourdes Beneria, Professor Emerita at Cornell University, stated that a number of economic studies showed that “the value of unrecorded activities, a high proportion of which are performed by women, might range between one-third to one-half of measured GNP”. Beneria assesses the issue of disregarding women’s work by linking unpaid work to capitalism. She explains that in capitalist economies, the market is viewed as the core of economic activity. Anything that does not occur in the market is believed to be economically insignificant.
In addition to domestic tasks such as cooking and cleaning, women took on chores that overlapped with the need of society. With the industrial revolution, several products and services no longer were confined to the private sphere but were later on exposed to the public sphere (the market). Those products and services are those initially created and performed within the household. As such, when products that were a result of home craft such as mats, clothing, baskets, pots and services such as haircutting and medical assistance leave the domestic realm, women’s contribution should automatically be part of the GNP.
Despite the continuous neglect of women’s contribution, there has been a certain level of improvement. There are efforts to include subsistence production, which is the output of one’s production for own use, into the category of agriculture in the GDP. However, estimating subsistence activities is very complex as it differs from one place to another. Beneria expressed that once the market criteria did not apply, economic activities became arbitrary. Therefore, statistical disparities between countries develop, further discouraging the acknowledgment of women’s unpaid work.
Complications exist in the mission to account women’s unpaid work, but hope for reform is not farfetched. The battle against the invisibility of women’s work has not been won, but we are on our way. One of the ways in which we can reach equality is in recognition of unpaid work. Women deserve to have their hard work rewarded, as such, being compensated financially would benefit in demolishing the negative outlook of domestic work being insignificant. Women’s work cannot be neglected any further. Policy makers need to revise statistical methods in measurement frameworks and include women’s unpaid work, as it is a vital component in the functioning of society.