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Valuing Women's Unwaged Work

by 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 genders.

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 Network.

To find out more and to get involved, contact:

P.O. Box 11795
Philadelphia, PA 19101
Voice: (610) 668-9886; Fax: (610) 664-8556
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 loans.



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