Can women’s unpaid work contribute to GDP?

It is a fact that family and community lives, societies and economies depend on unpaid domestic work. ENE OSANG looks at whether or not this contributes to Nigeria’s gross domestic (GDP).

Women around the world take great pride and satisfaction in looking after children, the elderly and sick members of their family, as well as their homes – what specialists call ‘unpaid care and domestic work.’ In both rich and poor countries especially in Africa and particularly in Nigeria women and girls are unfairly made to shoulder an unequal and excessive amount of unpaid care.

Experts have said that the time and energy required for care limits women’s opportunities to earn an income, develop personally and thrive professionally. Excessive unpaid care work is stubbornly holding back women’s and girls’ empowerment.

What is unpaid care?

As illustrated in a graphic developed from material in Oxfam (2015) Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care: Evidence for Influencing, Baseline Research Report, unpaid care and domestic work includes domestic work such as routine housework, preparing food/cooking, cleaning, dealing with household waste, washing, mending, ironing clothes.

Others are admin/household planning, shopping for household goods,

collection of water, firewood/fuel, direct care of people care of children (feeding, bathing, dressing, playing, helping with school work, supervising safety, accompanying a child to school/ clinic/other public services). Care of elderly (feeding, bathing, dressing, accompanying an adult to clinic/other public services). Care of ill/disabled family members (feeding, bathing, dressing, accompanying an adult to clinic/other public services) and Care of community members.

Paid domestic workers

In Nigeria, some homes who can afford the services pay for work most women do at home for free, and placing a figure to that gives an idea on how much women who are not paid save their homes.

A former head teacher at Dayfol Basic School, Gwagwalada, Ms. Gloria Ehikowoicho, stressed the importance of domestic work to the home and the society in general when she said, “These workers do much work but are paid little because much value is not placed on their job, those with certificates earn more and are respected but can any home or business operate comfortably without anyone doing the domestic work?

“Nannies and cleaners in private schools are paid 10,000 monthly and hardly get a salary increase but teachers depending on your qualification start with a monthly pay of 20,000 while they get salary increase faster.”

Does unpaid work save families?

In her reaction, Prof. Sarah Olanrewaju Anyanwu of the Department of Economics University of said there are two sides to the argument as most families who pay for services have work somewhere else to do, meanwhile women who have no other work engage in unpaid work while their husbands concentrate on working effectively to get paid.

She said, “Unpaid work does not really help families because the woman would have released herself to work elsewhere and be on a higher management level to pay lower cadre.

“Again, it is contributing indirectly because the husband would go out to work and knowing his wife is at home to take care of children will help productivity of the man and do much work but if so, indirectly that is contributing to national productivity and income which by extension the GDP.

“Career would have to pay for these services especially works that consumes time. For me, I will pay for the services and use my time to for something else more productive and at higher level but generally we should improve on data collection to find ways of improving on tje GDP so that efforts of unpaid work should not be wasted. Their contribution to national should be reflected in the GDP because they are doing a lot.”

However, Ms. Ehikowoicho said, “If housewives are paid same amount nannies and cleaners are paid, they would have earned 120,000 at the end of the year.

“These jobs are done for free and families who in most cases are low income earners are saved this cost.”

Unpaid work and GDP

Anyanwu said unpaid job contributes indirectly to national development, but this may not go directly to the GDP because in Nigeria, these work and activities are not monetised and so they don’t entre into the labour market.

She said, “The work cannot be captured by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) which is in charge of data collection, collation and dissemination and so, it is a pity.

“In abroad they have found a way of capturing most of these but in Nigeria, because the informal sector is large it is a problem especially the domestic women who get married and have fulltime jobs as domestic workers.

“These women don’t go out to work yet they do a lot of activities we call ‘do it yourself’. They are the cook, gardeners, cleaners, etc. If you employ these you will pay but because the woman does most of these herself it cannot be measured or quantified unlike in developed countries where it is full time jobs and people are employed to do it and are paid which is why they don’t have too much problem of unemployment.”

Continuing, she said, “In Nigeria the work of five or ten people is done by one person while in other countries they get people to do this and it’s captured in their salaries.

“Poverty on the other hand cannot allow this to work effectively in Nigeria: a situation where some know that they cannot drive but cannot employ a driver because he can’t pay for one and he does the driving. Because of poverty people don’t have enough to pay others to work for them so they continue to manage and come under duress and stress.”


Gender experts have wondered what difference it will make if a cost is put to unpaid work when women will end up bearing the brunt.

 However, Prof. Anyanwu stressed that it was important Nigerian statisticians collect data on households where majority are into fulltime employment and their efforts are not captured.

“If all these are converted to into paid jobs, jobs will be created and unemployment will reduce.”

Furthermore, as contained in the Business Briefing on Unpaid Care and Domestic Work compiled by Oxfam and Unilever, easing the load and sharing responsibility for unpaid care and domestic work is important.

The briefing quoted the 4R framework based on the work of Diane Elson as presented in D. Elson (2008) titled ‘The Three R’s of Unpaid Work: Recognition, Reduction and Redistribution.’ The concept of the 4th R (Represent) was developed by Oxfam and ActionAid as explained thus:

“Recognise that unpaid care work is mainly done by women, acknowledge it as work: a type of production that creates real value – and recognises it as such in relevant policies.

“Reduce the total number of hours that need to be spent on unpaid care tasks by improving access to affordable time-saving devices and care supporting infrastructure such as water, electricity and public transport.

“Redistribute unpaid care work within the household so that the total amount of unpaid care work is more fairly shared among family members, and shift some of the cost, responsibility and opportunity associated with unpaid care work to the state and the private sector (for example, through state and/or employer-sponsored childcare services and  paid parental leave).”

“Represent caregivers effectively in design and decision-making so they can voice their concerns and shape policies, budgets and plans that reflect their needs and interests. Experts focused on the topic of unpaid care and domestic work have created a simple framework that summarises key steps that need to be taken by governments, civil society organisations and businesses to redress the balance and relieve women’s heavy share of unpaid care work, freeing up their time for other pursuits.

However, due to the lack of value to unpaid work, this may take a long time to be achieved in Nigeria.

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