Unpaid Work

Of Women and Inequality

Farooque Chowdhury

More burdens are put on women than men as exploiting women has been made easier in the present world system. The tricky arrangement, a make-belief "universal" fact, is part of status quo. Advanced capitalist economies fail to discard the arrangement as the surplus value women produce is a lot, at times and in lands it's trillions of dollars.

This leads one to the finding: Even, advanced capitalist economies, many of those are matured bourgeois democracies also, deprive women. This old fact has been confirmed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and others from mainstream. "[O]n average, in OECD countries, women earn 16% less than men, and female top-earners are paid 21% less than their male counterparts." (OECD, Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship : Final Report to the MCM (Meeting of the OECD Council at Ministerial Level) 2012, May 2012). In Australia, women were among the worst affected as recent reports on poverty in the country found. In that continent-country, women were more likely to experience poverty than men—14.7 percent compared to 13 percent in 2011-12. (Poverty in Australia 2014, Australian Council of Social Service) In backward countries, in societies without accountability and transparency, condition of women can easily be assumed if women in the OECD-countries experience such deprivation.

However, deprivation of women doesn't deprive capital from getting service from women. "Companies", the OECD found, "with a higher proportion of women in top management do better than others." The fact stands as: You're paid less as you serve me better. It's the logic of capitalism!

The OECD report said: "[W]omen are doing more unpaid work than men, regardless of whether they have full-time jobs or not. Among couples where both partners work, women spend more than two hours per day extra in unpaid work, and even among female-earner couples men only do as much housework as women. The types of housework also differ: men tend to garden or engage in house maintenance, while women are more likely to cook and clean." Unpaid work, whether it's in home or in agriculture field, goes to the account of surplus value an entire society produces and capital appropriates.

It thus stands: capital profits at the cost of women, and capital exploits not only in manufacturing plants, but in homes also. In Australia, women's higher possibility of experiencing poverty than men "is due to the fact that women tend to have lower employment outcomes and wages, and are more likely to be in unpaid caring roles, and have lower investment incomes in retirement". (Poverty in Australia 2014) The report cited She works hard for the money : Australian women and the gender divide by Rebecca Cassells, Riyana Miranti, Binod Nepal and Robert Tanton. (National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling, Canberra, 2009) What the women in the Third and Fourth Worlds (TFW) countries experience in terms of wage, etc.? Imperialism has made the TFW a sanctuary for its capital "with the regimes it has installed and with the retrogressive economic forces it has befriended in these two worlds. These "contribute" to generating surplus value in immense amount.

Women earning less are equal to higher exploitation of women, and that means the more vulnerable the more exploited. Even, at the top level, women face the inequality. At the lower level, in factories and farms, at construction sites and the so-called informal sector, in the TFW-countries, the inequality is harsher. It appears a beast. The reality exposes capitalism's anti-women character.

Crisis in the world system aggravated the situation related to women. In the context of the recent financial and economic crisis, ILO found, "29 million net jobs lost during the global economic crisis have not been recovered." (Global Employment Trends for Women 2012, ILO, Geneva, December 2012) The crisis was boosted by the Eurozone crisis and the "fiscal cliff" threat in the US. These were followed by austerity measures - the mechanism to put the burden of crisis on people, and to reap profit from the crisis—in 2011-12. The impact hit women hard.

"From 2002 to 2007, the gender gap in unemployment was constant at around 0.5 percentage points, with the female unemployment rate higher at 5.8 per cent, compared to male unemployment at 5.3 per cent (with 72 million women unemployed compared to their global employment of 1.2 billion in 2007 and 98 million men unemployed compared to their global employment of 1.8 billion). The crisis raised this gender gap to 0.7 percentage points for 2012 ..." (ibid.) The crisis, the ILO found, eliminated 13 million jobs for women. Women were thus forced to join the reserve army of labor that capital uses to boost its profit and power. Joining the reserve army of labor weakens labor's bargaining power. Capital thus weakened women.

Moreover, the ILO report said "the crisis saw a reversal in the historically higher employment growth rates for women, lowering them below those for men by 0.1 percentage points ..." (ibid.) Capitalist crisis increases inequality. There is nothing to get astonished as the system is really a bonafide exploiter from head to toe.

The entire system, not only the system's crisis, doesn't give up women from exploitation. It not only turns women into commodity, it pays women less also. The fact exposes capital's brute face as paying women less than men means paying women less for necessary labor, which means either considering women lesser than average human being or putting extra burden on women for sustaining her body and soul, which capital needs for its regeneration.

A broader "picture" makes the system's face more brute. All over the world, women's labor is underpaid and unpaid. Women's work at home is unpaid. For sustaining labor, an essential for capital, work at home-food preparation, rearing up children, etc. is required, and that goes unpaid. So, the fact comes out as capital extracts from women at home..

"Women contribute substantially to economic welfare through large amounts of unpaid work, such as child-rearing and household tasks, which often remains unseen and unaccounted for in GDP." (Katrin Elborgh-Woytek, Monique Newiak, Kalpana Kochhar, Stefania Fabrizio, Kangni Kpodar, Philippe Wingender, Benedict Clements & Gerd Schwartz, Women, Work, and the Economy : Macroeconomic Gains From Gender Equity, IMF staff discussion note, September 2013) It's actually theft as labor is used but unpaid.

Inequality women face turns stark if women's unwaged/under-waged work is considered. Citing the ILO Lena Graber and John Miller write: In 1990, women carried out two-thirds of the world's work for 5% of the income. ("Wages for housework: the movement & the numbers" in Amy Gluckman, John Miller, Bryan Snyder, and Chris Sturr (ed.), Readings in Macroeconomics, 28th edition) In 1995, the UNDP's Human Development Report estimated that women's unpaid and underpaid labor was worth $11 trillion worldwide, and $1.4 trillion in the US. The share of the advanced economy is more than one-tenth. The amount tells capital's gains from women. Capital knows the secret: Wealth is in the hands of a goddess named Laxmi.

As example of hours spent by women in household work Lena and John refer to a set of data related to the issue: In Australia, 2 hours and 27 minutes were spent for child care per day in a household by a woman in 1997. In the UK in 2000, it was one hr and 26 min while in Nepal, in 1996, it was two minutes more than that of the UK. In Norway, it was 42 min in 2000 while in Japan it was 24 min in 1999. Time spent for food preparation was: Australia—1 hr 29 min, Norway—49 min, the UK—1 hr 8 min, Nepal—5 hr 30 min. Time spent for water and fuel collection in Nepal was 1 hr 10 min while in Norway it was 1 min. Time was also spent for cleaning and shopping. The total time spent was : Australia —3 hr 39 min, Japan—3 hr 34 min, Norway—3 hr 55 min, the UK—4 hr 55 min (op. cit.)

What do these hours and minutes mean? Citing Rosemarie Tong's Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction, (1989, Westview Press) Lisa Healy writes: "In essence, women's domestic labour is a vital contribution to the production of marketplace commodities, as it permits the capitalist to extract surplus value in the marketplace and can hence, be construed as unpaid labour 'performed for the capitalist'." ("Capitalism and the Transforming Family Unit: A Marxist Analysis", Socheolas: Limerick Student Journal of Sociology, vol. 2(1), November 2009, University of Limerick) Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James claimed that women's work inside the home generates surplus value, (cited in Rosemarie)

Further facts render more startling picture: "Canadian women performed 65% of all unpaid work, shouldering an especially large share of household labor [....] In Great Britain [...] unpaid labor hours are high for an industrialized country [...], far greater relative to GDP. [...W]hen valued using the opportunity cost method, unpaid work was 112% of Britain's GDP in 1995! With the specialist-replacement method British unpaid labor was still 56% of GDP - greater than the output of the United Kingdom's entire manufacturing sector for the year. In Japan [...] women perform over 80% of unpaid work [...] The Japanese Economic Planning Agency calculated that counting unpaid work in 1996 would add between 15.2% (generalist-replacement method) and 23% (opportunity-cost method) to GDP. Even at those levels, the value of unpaid labor still equaled at least half of Japanese women's market wages." (Lena & John, op. cit.)

With increased crisis, financial or ecological, the workload on women increases. In areas in Bangladesh, rural women's time spent for collecting fuel and firewood increased many fold due to degradation of their immediate ecology. (Farooque Chowdhury, "Scarce fuel: Growing scarcer" and "Notes from the field", People's Report 2002-2003, Bangladesh Environment, vol. I, UNDP sponsored) Micro credit targeted at women at household level increases debtor women's workload and working hour/day to the level of inhuman cruelty. (Farooque Chowdhury, "Metamorphosis of the micro credit debtor", Micro Credit : Myth Manufactured, 2007) It's almost impossible to find mainstream's study on the working hour of women debtors of micro credit, and a comparison between incomes by micro credit "enterprise" and other economic work. One has to depend on inquiry at personal level to get the answer regarding micro credit debtors. These, data and information provided by Lena and John, and the People's Report, and the argument related to women-debtors of micro credit, are a part of a picture that help comprehend the labor women are compelled to spend in the service of capital.

The data and argument above tell the huge amount of wealth woman produce and the extent of deprivation they "earn". What's the total work day women spent all over the world for years and for generations, and what's the total amount of wealth they produce? It's unimaginable. Is it less than the labor required for building the Taj Mahal or the pyramids? Nazrul Islam, the Rebel Poet of Bengal, said: Half of the world's great creations are made by women, men's contribution was not the whole. The world system appears illogical if one compares the amount of money the system wastes by manufacturing arms, waging wars and invasions, organizing assassinations and hatching conspiracies while it doesn't pay women's so much labor.

But, "[t]here is ample evidence that when women are able to develop their full labor market potential, there can be significant macroeconomic gains. ... [R]aising the female labor force participation rate (FLFPR) to country-specific male levels would, for instance, raise GDP in the United States by 5 percent, in Japan by 9 percent, in the United Arab Emirates by 12 percent, and in Egypt by 34 percent. ...In rapidly aging economies, higher FLFP can boost growth by mitigating the impact of a shrinking workforce. ... Better opportunities for women to earn and control income could contribute to broader economic development in developing economies .... Equal access to inputs would raise the productivity of female-owned companies. ... The employment of women on an equal basis would allow companies to make better use of the available talent pool, with potential growth implications. (Katrin Elborgh-Woytek, et al, op. cit.)

Questions obviously will follow the facts cited above: Why (1) women are not allowed to develop their full labor market potential? (2) FLFPR is not allowed to increase? (3) better opportunities for women to earn and control income are not allowed? (4) women are not allowed to have equal access to inputs? (5) employment of women on an equal basis is not allowed? And, what are the obstacles or the interests that create the obstacles?

The last question virtually questions, and exposes the status quo. The obstacles are in the interests that dominate entire societies, not only women. Other questions simultiineously expose the dominating system's tact and incapacity.

The status quo is incapable of developing full potential of all the productive forces in society. The crude act of the system that gets exposed is: the system tries to increase reserve army of labor by keeping women in a corner, by making them appear useless. Increasing reserve army of labor benefits capital.

Gender wage gap increases capital's power for bargaining with labor. The gap in the same occupation makes capital's power crudely exposed. The IMF staff discussion note finds "there is a significant wage gap associated with gender, even for the same occupations." (op. cit.)

Self-employment, so-called informal sector, is the evidence of a system's incapacity to provide employment, discarding of responsibility regarding employment. It's a failure of the system. The system fails to use all its productive forces. At the same time, with this sector, the system increases the size of reserve army of labor. The gender gap doesn't leave even the sector. "The gender gap in earnings", the IMF staff discussion note says, "is even higher in self-employment than in wage employment." (op. cit.) Despite losses the system sustains gender gap in the labor market. GDP per capita losses attributable to gender gaps in the labor market have been estimated at up to 27 percent in regions. In regions it varied: 15 and 23 percent. (Cuberes, D & M Teignier, "Gender Gaps in the Labor Market and Aggregate Productivity," Sheffield Economic Research Paper 2012017, June 14, 2012 version) The cruelty of the system - weaken labor to increase profit - thus gets exposed.

Despite potential with female labor force participation, the IMF staff discussion note finds: "Average FLFP remains low at around 50 percent, with levels and trends varying across regions. ... Variations in the gender gap are significant even among OECD countries." (op. cit.) Doesn't the system require a better FLFP? Is it the incapacity of even the OECD countries? The system reveals its anti-women position with its incapacity.

State is a machine in the system. States in the global system propagate their responsibility to ensure basic necessities and rights. But, the IMF staff discussion note says: 'To many countries, the lack of basic necessities and rights inhibits women's potential to join the formal labor market or become entrepreneurs." (op. cit.) How can one reject findings mentioned in an IMF staff discussion note? Doesn't the finding say: states don't care about women?

States' anti-women position is further exposed as the IMF staff discussion note says: "In many advanced economies, tax systems impose strong disincentives for FLFP through high tax wedges on secondary earners." (op. cit.) And, tax system in any system serves dominating interests/elites.

Thus, the inequality that women face shows the world capitalist system's incapacity, crude trick to exploit women, and an "output" of the system's acts to increase the size of the reserve army of labor. The system hinders potential while tries to gain more strength to bargain with labor.

Vol. 47, No. 22, Dec 7 - 13, 2014