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Time to participate

Gender imbalance is often apparent at international meetings.
Source: IISD

In many rural communities in the developing world, one of the obstacles to more equitable gender participation in governance and decision making relates to women's work burden and its effect on the time available for other matters.

Experts in the late 1970s began to argue that the 'real energy crisis' was not a shortage of biomass energy, but of women's time. Work burdens also affect other factors needed for informed participation: they limit girls' and women's opportunities to receive training and education which could enhance their understanding of problems and possible solutions (Cecelski 2004). The schooling gap between boys and girls in many countries and regions still exists. In times of hardship, girls are the first to be pulled from school. An estimated 860 million people in the world are illiterate, and two-thirds of these are women (UNESCO 2003b).

Detailed studies of time allocation since the late 1970s showed that women and girls worked longer hours than men and boys, and more of their work was unpaid. There was also considerable diversity in the division of labour between men and women. Certain tasks, such as weeding, child care, cooking, fuel collection, food processing and water carrying were typically done by women, while other tasks such as ploughing and home repair were done by men (Cecelski 2004).

In response to such studies, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommended in the 1980s that the definition of 'labour activities' in labour market censuses should cover subsistence and domestic activities, as well as wage-earning and the production and sale of goods and services (Cecelski 2004). In 1995, UNDP estimated that if unpaid activities were treated as market transactions at prevailing wages, global output would increase by US$16 trillion of currently non-monetized contributions. Of this, US$11 trillion would correspond to women's 'invisible contribution' and the rest to men's (UNDP 1995).

Such studies also drew attention to the need for time-saving technologies for women, to free up time for other income generating activities and for education. More equal education of women would bring a range of benefits. Education has been found to have a profound effect on health and population growth. A study of 25 developing countries showed that, all else being equal, one to three extra years of maternal schooling would reduce child mortality by 15 per cent, whereas similar increases in paternal schooling would achieve a 6 per cent reduction (Kirk and Pillet 1998). Education, especially if pursued beyond the first few years, also reduces fertility rates (UNFPA 2003a) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Percentage of women giving birth by age 20, by level of education

Source: UNFPA 2003a


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