The research process

Our project, 'Balancing unpaid care work and paid work', part of the GrOW programme, aims to create knowledge about how women’s economic empowerment (WEE) policy and programming can generate a ‘double boon’: paid work that empowers women and provides more support for their unpaid care work responsibilities. This research:

  • Explores the social organisation of care within low income households in India, Nepal, Tanzania and Rwanda.
  • Looks at how policies and programmes can positively influence the balance between paid work and unpaid care work that is empowering for women and families.
  • Focuses on how both state and non-state WEE policies and programmes can integrate care in ways that: i) recognise women’s double role as workers and care givers; ii) reduce drudgery associated with care; and iii) redistribute unpaid care work from poor families to the state, and from women to men; iv) represent carers in decision-making.
  • Generate recommendations about how state and non-state WEE policies and programmes can integrate considerations of unpaid care work, so that gains are optimised, shared across families and sustained across generations.

The project will generate knowledge on designing programmes that optimise WEE, allow the sharing of the gains of WEE across families, and sustain the gains of WEE across generations.

Research questions

How can women’s economic empowerment (WEE) policies and programmes take unpaid care work into account in order to enable women’s economic empowerment to be optimised, shared across families and sustained across generations?

The research will identify elements of a balance between paid work and unpaid care work and the actions and interventions that can be taken by state and non-state actors or institutions to support this balance. There are three sub-questions:

1) How do women in low income families balance unpaid care and paid work/income-earning activities?
2) To what extent and how do WEE programmes and policies take unpaid care tasks into account?
3) How can WEE programmes and policies enable economic empowerment that is optimised, shared and sustained?

Theory of change

Support for unpaid care work will: 

  • Optimise women’s economic participation, by enabling them to work without deepening their time poverty, or them worrying about the amount and quality of care their families were receiving. This in turn will help make it possible for them to choose better-paid and more empowering types of work (access to work and conditions at work place), rather than being forced into low-paid ‘flexible’ work.
  • Share the gains of women’s economic empowerment across all females in the family, so that younger girls and older women are not left to carry the burden and disempowered as a result; and that economic benefits are not eroded because of the cost of substitute care. 
  • Sustain the gains of women’s economic empowerment across generations, by ensuring that childcare arrangements do not deteriorate but rather improve, as a result of their mothers’ paid work.

Balancing Unpaid Care Work and Paid Work in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa

This short video from IDRC outlines work to generate new evidence on women's economic empowerment, gender equality, and economic growth in low-income countries, led by IDS, the Institute of Social Studies Trust and BRACís East Africa Research and Evaluation Unit.

Gaps remain in knowledge on the relationship between women’s paid work and unpaid care work. There is little evidence on the social organisation of care – particularly the relationships and norms governing childcare within low income families in developing countries.

Without consideration of how care is reorganised when women enter paid work, policy and programming on increasing labour force participation of women can seriously compromise the potential for such programmes to improve lives for women and families now and across generations.