Measuring domestic and unpaid care work: Recognising women’s total contribution to work and economies


Measuring domestic and unpaid care work

In the Caribbean and around the world more people are at home due to the impacts of COVID-19 lockdowns and/or the subsequent unemployment, as a result care work responsibility in the home has multiplied. In the absence of measurement, women’s total contribution to social and economic development is not being captured.

Measuring unpaid domestic and care work was the focus of a UN Women-hosted seminar which included representatives from the CARICOM Secretariat, OECS Commission, CDEMA and national statistical offices, as well as researchers from the University of the West Indies and international research consultants specialising in this area.

Representative, UN Women Multi-country office – Caribbean, Ms. Tonni Brodber explained unpaid care work must be counted.

“Care work is crucial to our societies and to the economy. It includes looking after children, elderly people, and those with physical and mental illnesses and disabilities, as well as daily domestic work like cooking, cleaning, washing, mending, and fetching water and firewood in some communities still in the Caribbean. Without someone investing time, effort and resources in these essential daily tasks, communities, workplaces, and whole economies would grind to a halt.

What we knew at the global level was that, on an average pre-COVID-19 day, women spent about three times as many hours on unpaid domestic work and care work as men. Prior to COVID-19, data on how much time women and men spent on unpaid care and domestic work was not sufficiently prioritised and therefore scarce,” Ms. Brodber said.


Measuring domestic and unpaid care work - Tonni Brodber
Representative, UN Women Multi-country office – Caribbean, Ms. Tonni Brodber


Director, Human Development, CARICOM Secretariat, Mrs. Helen Royer stressed that while many countries globally had undertaken national time use surveys, CARICOM Member States still had data gaps to fill in relation to carrying out full scale surveys.

Mrs. Royer applauded the efforts of Trinidad and Tobago for including questions on unpaid care in its 2000 Census and Dominica, which did so in 2010. Jamaica has also included a module on unpaid care and domestic work in its 2018 Survey of Living Conditions. She strongly encouraged other Member States to follow the lead of these countries and pilot the appropriate questions in their Censuses to facilitate the establishment of a coordinated approach that will allow for comparability of data across States.

The UN Women Representative also shared that the CARICOM Secretariat, and the OECS Commission along with national governments and other partners are working assiduously to close this major data gap.  The three entities will support the piloting of the measurement of unpaid care work in Grenada, Guyana, Suriname, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago which is to be undertaken during their upcoming round of national censuses.

OECS Commission Senior Gender Specialist Sabrina Cajoly, said the Commission in partnership with UN Women will through the joint UN SDG Fund, provide training and technical support for all the National Statistics Offices in the OECS. Ms. Cajoly added that, Saint Lucia will also receive technical support to strengthen the gender-responsiveness of its Public Assistance Programme including access to care services:

“A pilot programme is currently ongoing with 25 women beneficiaries receiving access to skills training, education support, access to psychosocial and day care services, the latter of which will permit them more time to pursue income generation and skills training opportunities.”

Ms. Brodber shared that women’s disproportionate unpaid care work burden in times of ‘normalcy’, increases after hazards whether environmental or health related. Using an example from the Post Disaster Needs Assessment for Dominica after Hurricane Maria in 2017, elderly women were found to be doing the majority of the care work especially in the shelters. They were spending at least 18 hours per week on unpaid care work, which represented a significant increase after the hurricane.

CDEMA Acting Executive Director, Ms. Elizabeth Riley said that the Agency has integrated gender considerations into the Damage Assessment and Needs Analysis (DANA) process.

Ms. Riley also highlighted specific areas for data collection: “CARICOM Member States are encouraged to collect data pre- and post-disaster on unpaid care work. This would also allow for exact measurements and comparability informing policy and programmes. Data collection on the impact of disasters on infrastructure for care service provision such as day care centres should be specific, with a view to determining the possible impact on increasing unpaid care work.  Post-disaster assessments must consider if women’s participation in Cash for Work Programmes is affected by childcare responsibilities and if so, should include measures to address this.”