R T I C L E S* &*
S P E E C H E S
Women's Unwaged Work
Phoebe Jones Schellenberg
Chair of Philadelphia Women
Count Working Group
The International Women Count
Network (IWCN) grassroots delegation
to the UN Fourth World Conference
on Women in Beijing succeeded in
getting governments to agree to
measure and value unwaged work.
This issue is important to all women
because for the first time there
would be a true measure of what
it really takes for a society to
function. It would also give everyone,
policy makers and men and women
themselves, a measure of how much
inequality has to be eliminated.
It would allow for realistic evaluations
of how much cutbacks in the U.S.
and other industrialized countries
- and "structural adjustment programs*"
in non-industrialized countries
- are costing women and communities.
| A revaluation of women's work will
thoroughly challenge the present conventions.
If women's work is accurately reflected
in national statistics, it will shatter
the myth that men are the main breadwinners
of the world. Areas where women in most
of the world are presently treated as
economic non-entities - property rights,
terms of divorce settlements, collateral
requirements for bank credit - will
be completely changed. It will provide
information about women's contributions
to society, which will establish their
entitlement to human, legal, welfare,
economic, civil and social rights. Valuing
unwaged work will raise the value of
all work, including waged work. And
will, according to the Beijing Platform
for Action,"...contribute to a better
sharing of responsibilities" between
| The case for counting unwaged work
was bolstered by the release of the
1995 U.N. Human Development Report.
It estimated that unwaged and underwaged
work is worth $16 trillion internationally.
Over two-thirds of this, or $11 trillion,
is the non-monetized, invisible contribution
of women. The report clearly linked
the devaluation of women's work to women's
poverty and lowered status in all regions
of the world.
| Over 1200 NGOs, representing millions
of women and men worldwide, signed on
to a statement in support of counting
unwaged work. Winning its inclusion
in the Platform was the "single most
important achievement on macroeconomic
issues" to come out of Beijing, according
to the OXFAM representative on
the U.K. delegation.
| Since Beijing, IWCN has continued
to press for implementation of these
historic decisions in the U.S. and internationally.
Getting governments to agree to measure
and value unwaged work in "satellite"
accounts of the gross domestic product
(GDP) was a major achievement. It calls
for including "those activities that
are performed simultaneously...," and,
thereby, addresses a weakness in methods
which fail to recognize that women rarely
do one task at a time. Performing parallel
jobs, such as caring for children while
tending fields, is a common practice
for many of the world's women. The Platform
also calls for countries to receive
resources and technical assistance to
enable them to measure unwaged work.
| The U.S. recently announced that
the Departments of Labor and Commerce
are undertaking consultations on
measuring and valuing unwaged work.
Implementation must include caring work,
volunteer work, unwaged work in the
waged workplace, and unwaged work in
farming and other family businesses.
It must take account of the different
workloads of different sectors of women:
women of color, immigrant women, women
with disabilities, full-time housewives,
single mothers, lesbian women, younger
and older women, women in prostitution,
women who are criminalized, and other
particularly vulnerable women who pay
the financial and social cost of discrimination
of various kinds. The Platform for Action
requires that "strategies to eliminate
child labor also address the excessive
demands made on some girls for unpaid
work in their household and other households."
| What can you do? Contact the President's
Interagency Council on Women and
urge them to prioritize this issue for
implementation in the national action
agenda. In Philadelphia, a Women
Count Working Group has been formed
as part of the Implementing Beijing
To find out more and to get involved,
P.O. Box 11795
Philadelphia, PA 19101
Voice: (610) 668-9886; Fax: (610)
E-mail: [email protected]
(International and other addresses
in the U.S. are available on request).
*Belt tightening imposed
by the International Monetary Fund
and World Bank on debtor nations seeking