In a world where gender inequalities remain deeply entrenched, a new Oxfam report uncovers a stark reality: most work performed by women globally is unpaid. A staggering 65% of women’s work hours, essential to societal wellbeing, remain unremunerated, painting a grim picture of global work distribution.

The Value and Impact of Unpaid Work

The significance of unpaid work transcends mere monetary valuation. Domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and unpaid care work are pillars of daily living and societal functioning. However, this work, primarily performed by women, is often invisible in conventional economic measures, notably GDP. Moreover, the physical and mental toll of these tasks on women cannot be overstated, often leading to chronic stress, fatigue, and limited opportunities for personal growth and relaxation.

The Limitations of GDP: A Lens on Gender Inequality

Oxfam challenges GDP as a measurement tool, describing it as “anti-feminist and colonial”. The critique lies in GDP’s propensity to privilege monetisable work, consequently devaluing the critical work women perform. This ‘private’ sphere labour is a clear reflection of gender inequality, with unpaid work serving as a barrier to women’s economic empowerment.

The Need for Change: A Call for More Comprehensive Metrics

Deep diving into international labour data, Oxfam reveals that globally, unpaid care work forms around 45% of total weekly work hours for both genders. Highlighting the scale of this invisible labour, research unveiled that the value of unpaid care in England and Wales parallels a second NHS, saving the government an estimated £162bn per year in wages.

The Way Forward: Recognising and Redistributing Unpaid Work

Anam Parvez, the report’s author, criticises the governmental “fixation” on GDP and advocates for a shift towards metrics capturing the complete economic landscape. She highlights the pressing need for change, stating, “Women are short-changed globally, pushed into time and income poverty. Unpaid care is a hidden global economy subsidy; without it, the system would crumble.”

Indeed, businesses and governments need to recognise and value this unseen labour and promote gender-equitable work distribution. This could involve promoting flexible working arrangements or investing in public services to reduce the burden of care work.

As Parvez underscores, unpaid work forms an integral part of our collective existence, with its value surpassing conventional economic measures. In response, the UK’s ONS has been allocated an additional £25m to develop innovative metrics that go ‘beyond GDP’, reflecting the true impact of economic change on people and their environments.

We must all work together to change the way we measure economic value and to ensure that women’s unpaid work is valued and recognised. Until then, we will continue to see the systemic inequalities that disadvantage women and limit their economic opportunities.