The Brunt of Unpaid Care Economy on Women: The Case of South Asia

Women are expected to handle the majority of home labour in a patriarchal society. Balancing paid employment with domestic duties is a demanding endeavour that affects women psychologically, emotionally, and physically as more women enter the labour sector. Care labour, which includes caring for vulnerable individuals, cooking, cleaning, and gathering the resources needed to run a family, is primarily performed by women. This unpaid care work is not accounted for in the economy. Under the 5th SDG goal, 5.4 helps to highlight and recognize unpaid care and domestic work at the national level by the provision of governmental services, facilities, and social security programmes, as well as fostering mutual accountability within the community and family households.

Unpaid care labour is prevalent in middle-income countries, such as South Asia, where women are married with children, have lower levels of education, and live in rural areas. Because of male-centric society and gendered accepted norms, women carry the greater burden of family responsibilities and caring for relatives. Marriage and motherhood are strong indications of women’s decline from workforce support. By the year 2030 a variety of reasons are expected to drive up demand for care work in this region.

What is Care Economy?

Care economy can broadly be defined as the sector of the economy that deals with the contribution of care services that deal with the nurturing and reproduction of the present and future population. To narrow it down, it deals with childcare, care for the elderly, education, healthcare and personal social and domestic services that are taken care of through paid and unpaid labour and within formal and informal sectors. In short, the total sum of all paid and unpaid care work through direct and indirect work that is both long term and short term can be considered as care economy.

Care work and care economy involve activities and connections that deal with meeting the physical, emotional and psychological side of care. Care workers do the important work of giving care through their continuous relational engagement with the receiver of care. Unpaid care workers specifically contribute to the standard care that is called “public good,” through which communities benefit without paying the workers.

Unpaid Care Economy in South Asia

Women in South Asia participate in labour force 19.5% less when compared to those in Sub-Saharan Africa as per the estimates of ILO. Countries in the South Asia subregion had women accounting for the highest amount of time spent in unpaid care before the pandemic.

In India women are found to be spending about 299 minutes per day on unpaid care services when compared with men, who only spend 97 minutes according to the National Sample Survey 2019 report on time use. Post covid there is a definite increase in these numbers. Women in Pakistan are deemed to be cultural reproducers of the country. According to various estimates, the overall cost of the unpaid care work done by women amounts to about a fourth of the country’s GDP. A study by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling found that the value of unpaid care work done by women in Bangladesh accounts for about 39.52% of the GDP. Women contribute 81.4% of the total unpaid labour, while men only contribute 18.6%.

In Sri Lanka, it was found that 87.3% of women and girls above 10 years did household and care work when compared with men and boys, who only made up 59.7%. Nepalese women spend 4 hours on housework whereas men only spend 58 minutes. In the Maldives, men make up 61% of the total labour force, while women only make up 39%. Women spend about 6 hours doing paid care work while men only spend half that amount every day.

The Bhutanese society is also faced with issues such as gender inequality, economic imbalance, and power relations. Data shows that women performed 71% of unpaid care is 2.5 times more than men. About 33% of women are involved in providing unpaid care services, while only 12% of men do unpaid care services. Before the takeover of Taliban forces in 2021, the workforce participation rate for women was 21% in 2019. Women additionally were estimated to take up 75% of the unpaid care work around the house.

It is clear that the countries of South Asia are still caught in a patriarchal mindset that limits women and girls within their houses. Because of societal and cultural traditions, they are expected, and in some cases, forced to stay at home and care for the household. Men and boys are given higher precedence in rural areas for education since they are expected to head the household and provide revenue for the family. Even when women in metropolitan regions get an education and enter the labour field, they are still expected to cook, clean, and care for their family members, which affects them physically, intellectually, and emotionally.


With the onset of the pandemic and the increase in unpaid care work women were exhausted. Though the men and boys in the family stepped up to help during the lockdown, the major part of the care work still went to the women in the household. Unpaid care work’s gendered structure and uneven weight is a major barrier to women’s economic autonomy in South Asia. Unpaid care work and its effects on women in the region must thus be included in any strategy to attain women’s economic empowerment in South Asia.

Policies pertaining to unpaid care labour in the region are only focused on maternity leaves or women’s economic empowerment. These policies are mostly aimed at women who are in formal sectors while women in informal sectors are neglected. Greater state engagement is need for comprehensive care policies in the care economy’s investment, formalisation, and regulation. Care policies have the ability to increase female labour force engagement and narrow the gender pay inequality over time. They have a transforming effect on patriarchal views regarding care, with more men participating in care labour. Furthermore, they assist companies by enhancing labour productivity, decreasing employee absence and dropout, and adding equality and productivity to the workplace. National accounts should be attentive to the importance of unpaid care to economic expansion in addition to giving care benefits. Fiscal strategy can recognise and reward care labour in a variety of ways, including gender-sensitive planning, satellite accounts, and tax policy. Lastly, the state would play an essential role in assisting caregivers in realising and expanding their rights.

Innocentia Atchaya
Innocentia Atchaya
Feminist scholar advocating for the recognition of gender in geopolitics and international relations.