Everybody has an idea what a typical day of a woman living in Kazakhstan consists of. While she might not be aware of it, her day is “133/246”.[1] This is not the reading of some medical test. “133” is the average length of time in minutes per day she spends on paid work. “246” is the average length of time in minutes per day she is occupied with unpaid care and domestic work.  By the way, a day of an average man in Kazakhstan is “203/110”. So, what is the story behind “133/246”?      

What is unpaid work

Definitions of paid and unpaid work originate from the international concepts of the labour force by the International Labour Organisation (ILO)[2] and internationally agreed standards on how to compile measures of economic activity (System of National Accounts, SNA 2008). According to ILO definition, unpaid care work (UCW) includes three categories of activities: domestic services for own use within the household, caregiving services to household members, and community services and help to other households. Each category contains further subset of activities, like payment of bills, shopping, accompanying family members to school or hospital, and even pet care, in addition to what immediately comes to mind in association with the domestic chores. These activities vary in physical effort and time-intensity, depending on urban or rural location, availability of social infrastructure, household characteristics, etc.

Why unpaid work matters

Unpaid household service work sits outside of the SNA production boundaries (ILO 2013) and hence it is not recognised as “work” that is a vital input into economic growth. However, it is the invisible domain of unpaid care work that produces many of the core contributions to human capital formation and welfare.[3] It plays an important role in functioning of the economy, labour market and prosperity of the society.

The issue of unpaid work and its measurement in the labour force and national accounts propelled since the UN Beijing Conference on Women in 1995. The landmark Beijing Platform for Action promoted time use surveys which were implemented in many countries since late 1990s. Produced data demonstrates the gender gap in paid and unpaid work by urban-rural location, age groups, educational levels, employment status, income groups, marital status, etc.[4] and value of this kind of work across countries.

·         ILO (2018) states that 16.4 billion hours per day are spent on unpaid care work globally, which equals to 2 billion people working 8 hours per day without remuneration.[5]

Measuring and recognising the unpaid work is important for several reasons. First, the gender gap in unpaid care work is a significant indicator of gender inequality. Women typically spend more time on unpaid care work than men. And while gender patterns in time assigned to this work vary, unpaid care work is commonly seen as women's responsibility:

·         according to ILO[6] globally, women perform 76.2 per cent of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three times as much as men. 

·         according to UNDP (2017) Women in Europe and Central Asia region spend more time than men on unpaid care work (4.5 and 2.2 hours respectively), and work longer hours than men on average, paid work and unpaid care work combined;

Recognising the unpaid work is also important because poor estimation of unpaid care work leads to incorrect assumptions behind policy interventions in social protection, labour market, etc. and limit the effectiveness of public spending across a range of socio-economic areas. ILO “Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work” report (2018) contains estimates of the value of unpaid care work for 53 countries:

·         value of unpaid care work in GDP ranges from the highest 41.3 per cent in Australia (of which 26.8 per cent is attributable to women) to second to the lowest 2.5 per cent of GDP in Kazakhstan (of which 1.8 percent is attributable to women).

Gender inequalities in unpaid care work translate into higher gender gaps in employment and other empowerment areas. For example, the amount of time devoted to unpaid care work is negatively correlated with women labour force participation, while caring responsibilities influence the quality of women employment. In certain countries reduced gender gaps in education have not led to reduced gender gaps in employment outcomes owing to persistent gender disparity in distribution of caring responsibilities.[7] The link between women’s domestic roles, occupational choices and earnings suggests that lowering the gender wage gap can reduce violence against women.[8]

Why unpaid work is seen as women's responsibility

Gender inequality in unpaid work is rooted in discriminatory social norms. In most societies, working for pay is considered men's business, while unpaid care and domestic work is heavily feminized.

Today we have many indexes at our disposal to measure gender inequalities. Most often cited indexes are: the Gender Inequality Index (GII) by UNDP[9], Global Gender Gap Index (GGI) by the WEF[10] and the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) by OECD[11]. Each of these indices has its own merits. Together they demonstrate the multitude of factors, including healthcare, social environment and education, participation in labour force and political and economic empowerment which impact gender dimensions and identify critical factors in the core of gender inequalities.

Unpaid work in the times of COVID-19 pandemic

In normal times, women provide around three quarters of all unpaid work. In the times of current crisis women play a disproportionate role in responding to the virus, including as frontline healthcare workers and carers at home. Women’s unpaid care work has increased significantly as a result of school closures and the increased needs of older people. Women are also harder hit by the economic impacts of COVID-19. Such are the findings of the ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work, 30 June 2020.

UNFPA-UN Women conducted Rapid Gender Assessment of COVID-19 impacts in Kazakhstan in April-May 2020, revealing how the lockdown measures affected lives of urban and rural families in the country. The data shows, the workload under quarantine has increased significantly for both women and men. Yet, women, more than men, shoulder the most of the burden of domestic work. The cumulative percentage of men who have increased time spent on three or more types of household chores is 26%, the percentage of women in this category is 40%. , At the same time, the influence of gender stereotypes in the distribution of domestic functions is still being observed, especially in rural areas.


Way forward

More gender-balanced redistribution of unpaid work is not a private matter for the households to deal with. It involves men and women, governments, private sector and non-governmental actors within “recognition, reduction and redistribution” framework (UNDP 2009).

As discussed in Tackling Social Norms: A Game Changer for Gender Inequalities Policies and captured in Gender Social Norms Index[12] policies, programmes and legislation that facilitate redistribution of unpaid work will have limited traction if gender-biased social norms affirming inequalities persist. It is important to support the work of civil society organisations and activist groups challenging these norms through exposure to new ideas and practices via formal and informal channels. The UN #EqualPartners campaign is an example of recent initiatives seeking to enhance positive domestic behaviours of men sharing households’ tasks that are traditionally shouldered on women and to challenge stereotypes of gender roles in the family.



1 UNDP 2017. Investing in Social Care for Gender Equality and Inclusive Growth in Europe and Central Asia, Policy Brief 2017/01.

2 ILO 2013. Resolution I: Resolution concerning statistics of work, employment and labour underutilization, adopted by the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians, October, Geneva.

3 UNDP 2009. Unpaid Care Work, Policy Brief Gender Equality and Poverty Reduction, Issue 1, October.

4 ILO 2019. The Unpaid Care Work and the Labour Market. An analysis of time use data based on the latest World Compilation of Time-use Surveys / Jacques Charmes; International Labour Office – Geneva.

5 https://www.ilo.org/asia/media-centre/news/WCMS_633284/lang--en/index.htm .

6 ILO (2018), Care Work and Care Jobs for the Future of Decent Work, International Labour Office – Geneva.

7 OECD (2014), Unpaid Care Work: The missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labour outcomes, Issues Paper.

8 https://blogs.worldbank.org/eastasiapacific/why-care-about-unpaid-care-work-east-asia

9 UNDP HDR (2019), Gender Inequality Index (GII), http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/gender-inequality-index-gii

10 World Economic Forum (2019), Global Gender Gap Report 2020, https://www.weforum.org/reports/gender-gap-2020-report-100-years-pay-equality

11 OECD (2019), SIGI 2019 Global Report: Transforming Challenges into Opportunities, https://www.oecd.org/publications/sigi-2019-global-report-bc56d212-en.htm

12 UNDP (2020), Tackling Social Norms: A Game Changer for Gender Inequalities, 2020 Human Development Perspectives, UNDP – New York

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