East Africa: Women Bear Brunt of Work Without Pay

Women in the region are spending long hours doing necessary but unquantifiable work, leaving them with little or no time for work that is economically productive and earns them money.

In Tanzania, women spend 3.5 times more minutes per day on unpaid care and domestic work than men. It is three times more minutes per day for women in Rwanda. Uganda exhibits a more egalitarian picture with women spending 1.2 times more minutes per day on unpaid work than men.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development is concerned that time constraints are imposing a double burden on women, pulling them away from taking advantage of opportunities generated by trade liberalisation and regional integration in East Africa.

"Women's unpaid care and domestic work burden limits the number of hours they can devote to productive on-farm and off-farm activities, constrains their mobility and limits their access to market resources and information, in comparison to men," states the UN entity in its East African Community Regional Integration: Trade and Gender Implications for 2018 Report.

In Nessuit, a remote part of Nakuru County in Kenya, Margaret Nabeto, a peasant farmer, spends at least an hour daily on domestic work before she can embark on an income-generating activity.

"I must wake up at 6am every day to clean the house and put everything in order by at least 7am," Ms Nabeto says, because "7am is the time I milk the cows, deliver it to buyers then return to prepare breakfast for the family."

Thereafter, she collects napier grass and fetches water for the cows before proceeding to the farm. She, however, says doing all the work on her own is overwhelming and she has had to employ a farmhand.

For Hilda Ojweke, a florist at Nairobi's City Market, her day starts at 3am. Often, she works the whole day and closes shop at 6pm, arriving home at 8pm and sleeps at midnight after finishing all the house chores.

"I am a cut-flower wholesaler and sell the flowers to retailers, meaning, I must be at the market by 4am. So I cannot get all the domestic work done in the morning," Ms Ojweke says.

Although her closing time is 6pm, it is inconvenient because of operating in the CBD, as some of her clients take advantage of this to make orders late in the evening. She always fears they would desert her if she closes before delivery.

"Yet I have to be home to prepare supper for my children," Ms Ojweke notes.

"I end up closing at 9pm after serving even the late clients, organise the leftovers and soak them in water for the next day's early orders."

Ms Nabeto and Ms Ojweke are examples of the differences in time-use between rural and urban women in East Africa, a factor directly contributing to gender inequalities in economic productivity.

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