How COVID-19 pandemic forces women to do more unpaid care work

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has aggravated already existing economic inequalities faced by women.

Gina hangs the net, which their family uses for fishing, outside their home. (Jed Regala / Oxfam)

According to the 2021 National Household Survey, a study commissioned by Oxfam Pilipinas, women spent 13 hours of daily care work compared to only eight hours for men.

Leah Payud, Oxfam Pilipinas' women's economic empowerment lead, said that despite the pandemic forcing families to spend more time at home due to quarantine protocols and mobility restrictions, women still bear the brunt of unpaid care work.

Care work is defined as the work of caring for others, including taking care of children, the elderly, and the sick, as well as doing domestic work such as cleaning and cooking.

It's in the culture

Filipinos are raised with the expectation that we should be taking care of our families, Payud said. She, however, also noted that women are traditionally assigned to the role of caregiver -- putting more pressure on women to take care of the family.

A mother displaced from her home due to armed conflict crosses a flooded area in Maguindanao while carrying her child. (Vina Salazar / Oxfam)

"So that means, women and girls do all the housework. We observe that in our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, or other women in the family. It's becoming intergenerational," Payud said in a mix of Filipino and English.

Unpaid care work and domestic work are becoming "heavy, inefficient, and unequally distributed" among members of the family and even in the community.

"Providing care falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women and girls. Say, for example, when the mother is not home, by default, her responsibility is automatically passed onto her daughter. It's typical in our community, in Filipino households. This kind of culture or practice has been burdening women and girls since time immemorial," she added.

"This kind of role and expectation limit the time of women to learn, to earn, or to take part in any political or social activities of their choice."

What needs to be done

First, Layud said we must recognize that unpaid care work is real work.

William Daep eats lunch together with his family, while also feeding his son. He is a project participant of the WE-Care Project in Salcedo Town, Eastern Samar. (Jed Regala / Oxfam)

"We really call for recognition that unpaid work should be discussed as part of our work. Currently, it remains unrecognized, invisible, and undistributed," she underscored.

Layud also called for the redistribution of unpaid care work among the members of the family, the community, the government, and the workplace.

There is also a need to reduce the labor of unpaid care work by institutionalizing changes that support the care economy including water systems, healthcare services, and daycare centers, as well as investing in time-saving equipment.

"We call for an equitable reward of their unpaid care work. Those in the formal sector should enjoy flexible working hours or a setup favorable for them to be able to productively deliver their jobs while balancing their roles as parents and doing domestic works," Layud ended.