Real Choices, Real Lives: Girls’ evolving time use and emerging resistance
Since 2007, Plan International’s Real Choices, Real Lives qualitative, longitudinal study has tracked the development of 142 girls and their families in nine countries, exploring how age, gender and poverty intersect within the context of the social norms that underpin girls’ opportunities and realities.
Here, Jasmine Gideon (Senior Lecturer, Birkbeck University) and Lynsey Robinson (PhD Candidate, UCL-IOE) share insights from our analysis around girls’ unpaid care work, in response to recent research from Young Lives on children’s time use.
Renewed interest in measuring time use has been generated by the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030. Yet feminist researchers have long advocated the importance of measuring time spent on unpaid care work – which is often done by females, and too often invisible and taken for granted.
A full understanding of time use is vital not only for ensuring policy makers have a complete picture of women’s (and men's) total economic contribution, but also critical with a view to limiting the reproduction of gender inequalities across generations. This calls for recognition of children’s contribution to unpaid care work – particularly the role of girls.
Recent research from the Young Lives longitudinal study shows how children's time use in India, Ethiopia, Vietnam and Peru changes as they get older.
With the exception of India, the analysis highlights that differences between the amount of time girls and boys spend on work across all countries at all ages is not significant.
But, across all countries, girls faced a greater work burden in the home, including cleaning, cooking and caring for younger siblings. Boys, meanwhile, were more likely to be engaged in work for family businesses, farms, and in paid work.
Findings from Plan International UK’s Real Choices, Real Lives study
While the Young Lives data highlights the importance of both boys' and girls' work in the household, Real Choices, Real Lives data provides a more nuanced picture of the gender division within households.
We explore how the girls themselves understand their place in the household, as well as how they navigate and subvert gender inequalities.
This is important because the nature of work, and the value that is placed on it, matters when it comes to gender policies and programmes that seek to change unequal gender relations within the home.
Adolescence and unpaid care work
Adolescence is an important time, where gender norms around unpaid care work become reinforced as girls are expected to take on more responsibilities within the house.
This was particularly the case in Benin, Togo and Uganda, with girls taking on tasks including cooking and looking after younger siblings:
- Girl in Benin, 2018.
Age, birth order and sibling composition also matter. The girls, and their parents, told us that boys tend to do more household work in families with fewer girls, particularly if they are the eldest.
For example, in Benin and Uganda, some boys help with collecting water and washing dishes. However, this does not always extend into adulthood, and chores are often passed onto younger female siblings.
When girls spoke about the gender division of responsibilities, it often transpired that females were required to 'work in the fields' and do housework whilst men rarely cooked, cleaned or washed clothes.
Resistance to gender norms
One clear dynamic we observe in the Real Choices, Real Lives cases is that girls and women show resistance to gendered social norms.
Whilst many of the girls are becoming aware of the gender inequalities that surround them, many are also articulating their dissatisfaction with these, stating that it’s ‘not fair’.
- Girl in Uganda, 2018.
We also see some of the caregivers, particularly mothers and grandmothers, talking about the need to change the division of labour (including both as a result of observing others and proactively challenging the status quo).
Identifying these points of ‘rupture’ provides us with an insight into how, in some cases, change around gendered social norms can emerge.
- Girl in Togo’s mother, 2018.
- Girl in Vietnam’s mother, 2016.
In these examples, we see both mothers and daughters resisting their everyday experiences of gender inequality. These acts of resistance are important as they signal changes in gender relations within families and in the wider communities in which they live.
Some families in the study actively resist gender norms that say men should not do housework by taking on more responsibilities around the house. Although these individual acts in and of themselves may not automatically change unequal gender relations overnight, they do potentially signal changes taking place in society.
Limiting the reproduction of gender over generations
As Plan continues to work with the girls over the next few years, understanding these changes is particularly important as we seek to identify ruptures in order to influence policy and programming that will limit the reproduction of gender over generations.
The Young Lives’ working paper on children’s time use and the Real Choices, Real Lives data highlight the importance of boys’ and girls’ work in the normal functioning of the household. However, the nature of tasks, and how they are viewed and resisted, differs across time and space, and between women, men, girls and boys.
If we want to bring about real and lasting change, it is important to pay attention to these differences when designing programmes and policies.
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