I have an auntie who lives in Kampong Cham province. She has eight cows, dozens of ducks and chickens, a fishpond and a little bit of land to grow rice. I told her that it would be fun to play in her fields. She disagreed, saying: “It is not fun. I work more than ten hours a day to balance my household and agriculture activities.”
For a long time, many planners and statisticians missed the importance of household responsibilities in economic measurement. A recent study by the McKinsey Global Institute pointed out that if women’s participation in the labour force reached its full potential, an additional $28 trillion would be added to the world’s GDP by 2025. It puts my auntie’s labour in sharp perspective.
I want to see women’s participation in the workforce reach its fullest potential. For that to happen, development partners, policy makers, the private sector and civil society organisations need to start re-examining how their operations address the concept of household work. Including gender considerations in all their work – also known as gender mainstreaming and gender integration – is a good step forward.
Such a strategy relies on rigorous gender analysis and sex-disaggregated data to identify and explain the gaps that exist in households, communities and countries between males and females.
My experience in gender integration shows some promising trends – particularly when we addressed household responsibilities in our work. Men began to talk about sharing household responsibilities and supporting women’s participation in community programmes. Women reported finding extra time to invest in their personal and entrepreneurial development, coordinating community activities and enjoying a little extra time off.
Our take home lesson? When we try to help improve the lives of rural communities, let’s start by making sure that a high priority is placed on working around women’s schedules. Let’s use data and evidence to challenge existing gender biases.
This will require good gender analysis. For that analysis to produce useful results, we have to make sure our methods are sound and well thought-out. This includes making sure the analysis team is comprised of both gender experts and technical planners, and its methodology addresses gender inequality.
We may face resistance because some may say it is against their culture for men to share household responsibilities or for men to allow women to speak in public. Our culture is constantly evolving and gender roles are socially constructed. These can be both changed and socially deconstructed.
But this is not just about development experts or gender specialists. This is about all of us. We need to re-examine our thoughts about gender roles and our internal biases (we all have them!). Let’s change the way we think and, just as important, let’s change the way our families and communities think.
It’s time my auntie’s labour – and that of millions like her – is recognised for the incredible value it provides our country.