By Treezer Michelle Atieno
As much as care work is vital to the functioning of society, it is done with no pay and is hugely undervalued. In Kenya, unpaid care work is considered one of the significant contributors to gender inequality and the continuously widening gap in economic stability between men and women.
In a typical Kenyan household, family members engage in domestic chores and care as well as other duties such as shopping, cooking, and cleaning. However, unconscious bias among people, even among parents with a girl child, leads to assigning chores and roles that fuel the burden of unpaid care at the household level.
Gender experts argue that in assigning domestic roles, there is a normalisation of unfairness toward women through existing cultures and traditions to the extent that women find nothing unusual about it. But there is a big concern about the economic injustice that unpaid care work poses to women and girls in Kenya.
The government, through the State Department for Gender and Affirmative Action, has initiated the development of the National Care Policy in a bid to professionalise and put value to care work so that it can be remunerated and perceived as an important work.
Statistics show that women performing 76 per cent of all unpaid care work, spending four to five hours per day against one hour for men. This means that there is a gender-unequal distribution of unpaid tasks.
The proposed National Care Policy will ensure women’s protection from the burden of unpaid care work through social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.
“Unpaid care work is a major barrier to achieving gender equality and women’s economic empowerment. With the available evidence, there is a need to engage all key stakeholders to a national intervention to address care work initiatives,” said Principal Secretary Veronica Nduva from the State Department for Gender and Affirmative Action in one of the consultative meetings on the policy.
Research shows that some typical practices that result in unpaid care work are housewife practices and introducing young girls to house help duties, with a promise to educate or support them financially.
Unequal unpaid care work undermines women’s and girls’ rights by excluding them from paid work, education, and political life and leisure activities.
The National Care Policy, once developed and implemented, will reduce the burden of unpaid care work on women and girls in the country.