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Girls' Burden of Unpaid Care

CSW 2018: Girls' Burden of Unpaid Care

Real Choices, Real Lives

During this year’s UN Commission on the Status of Women, we launched our latest report from the Real Choices, Real Lives longitudinal research study. At the launch event, leading experts in adolescent girls rights came together to discuss how tackling time poverty can advance rural girls’ empowerment.

Real Choices, Real Lives

Eleven years ago, we began a research study that is following 142 girls in 9 countries, documenting their lives and experiences. Now, as the girls enter early adolescence, we are taking an in-depth look at the new challenges they will face in their teens and beyond.

One of the challenges that is becoming increasingly evident in their lives is the burden of unpaid care – the domestic chores and tasks that girls and young women are expected to carry out for their families

In 89% of households, women and girls do the majority of household chores. Gender roles and socio-economic status play a massive role in girls’ burden of unpaid care, and challenge their futures by defining their value and status as ‘good’ girls, daughters, sisters, and future wives and mothers.

Scale of the Issue

Every single girl in our study reports having to do chores every day.

Data indicates that girls are being trained in household tasks from as young as five years old.

Many families, despite having ambitious aspirations for their daughters’ education, still view the domestic sphere as entirely “women’s work” and girls are expected to take this on in their capacity as daughters, and eventually, wives and mothers.

The amount of time it takes girls to carry out their chores varies: ranging from 30 minutes to more than five hours per day with some reporting doing even more.

Difference of Perceptions

Interestingly, there appears to be a significant distinction between the hours that girls report spending on chores and the amount of time they are absent from school compared with the hours reported by their families. Consistently the families are under-reporting this.

Twice as many girls stated they do more than 2 hours of chores a day than was reported by parents.

At school

As well as the work they have to carry out in the home - the girls are also often unable to escape the established female role of cleaner and carer when they are at school.

Nearly all of the girls in the study are responsible for a number of daily chores to a greater extent than the male pupils. While the girls said boys are expected to do some of the outside chores at the school many of the girls reported being punished if chores were not completed before school - some violently - and advised that this was not the case for the boys.


Despite this seemingly very worrying picture regarding girls’ time - there does seem to be a small shift.

We are starting to see encouraging signs of resistant attitudes coming from the girls, but also their wider families - in all nine countries.

It seems that many families are reporting non-gendered selection and distribution of chores and are happy with this arrangement – with many parents acknowledging that this is a generational shift from their own childhoods.

However - despite comments of wanting equality between their children and the allocation of chores - when our researchers asked detailed questions as to who carries out specific chores it appeared the majority were in fact still done by the women. This suggests that perhaps while attitudes towards gender equality within the household are changing, it is still difficult to bring about concrete changes in behaviour.

More needs to be done:

The burden caused by time poverty will have huge impacts on the girls lives. It will limit them academically, potentially lead to fewer qualifications and skills and poorer job prospects. It will also affect their self- confidence, their social skills and their ability to make friends and contacts outside the family, which in turn will affect their access to the information they need to make informed decisions about all aspects of their lives.

We must do more to view the issue of time poverty through a life cycle approach and seek to address the issue from much earlier on in childhood.

Girls' Burden of Unpaid Care

Real Choices, Real Lives