Research has shown that globally more than 76 per cent of total unpaid care work is performed by women and girls. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women perform unpaid care work 4 times more than men. Men from the Asia Pacific region are said to contribute the least to unpaid care work

A few weeks ago, I came across a news report online. It was about a divorce between a couple that had been married for five years in Beijing. The court ordered the man to pay additional compensation to his wife for the unpaid household labour that she had done for her husband and his family.

The decision triggered heated argument for and against – against mainly because the compensation was nominal. Still, the decision can be considered seminal as the court had recognised the worth of unpaid domestic work for the first time in China.

We often hear women in Nepal, even urban, educated ones, saying, "I do nothing.

I am just a housewife."

In male-dominated societies, household and unpaid care work has been disproportionately assigned to women.

There is no formal recognition of their unpaid domestic care work, which is dubbed as "women's work".

The work they do does not figure in the gross domestic product (GDP) of many countries, including Nepal.

While caregiving is essential in all societies and economies, it is unfair that only women should provide it. By making women largely responsible for domestic unpaid care work, you are giving them less economic opportunities than men.

Women who say they don't do anything are usually the first to get up in the morning and the last ones to go to sleep without a break or provision of leave.

The care work they do free of cost for the family, rearing of children, catering to the family members' needs as well as fulfilling the physical and emotional needs of their husband should not go unrecognised.

Research has shown that globally more than 76 per cent of total unpaid care work is performed by women and girls.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), women perform unpaid care work 4 times more than men.

Men from the Asia Pacific region contribute the least to unpaid care work- a man in Pakistan is found to be contributing around 28 minutes in unpaid care work while the timing for an Indian man is 31 minutes on average.

With such statistics, we can easily see how Asian women, including in Nepal, are overworked, and how this unpaid care work has affected their personal, professional, economic and educational development.

The 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action at the Fourth World Conference of Women referred to the unequal distribution of unpaid care work between men and women as a barrier to gender equality. It called on states to establish and increase data collection of unpaid care work and design policies that recognise its importance to provide equal rights to those who perform this type of work.

Other international human rights mechanisms, including the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), to which Nepal is a party, have explicitly recommended States parties to recognise, reduce and redistribute the unpaid work of women.

Furthermore, CEDAW in 2016 also adopted a general recommendation on rural women that would allow care and domestic work to be addressed in a more holistic way to achieve de facto equality for rural women. It has also clarified that States parties should ensure that women doing unpaid work are eligible for retirement and other work-related benefits, as in a formal economy.

CEDAW's recommendations to industrial Asian countries were: "Ensure that all women engaged in unpaid work or in the informal sector, both in rural and urban areas, have access to non-contributory social protection schemes and introduce for women in the informal and rural economies the cash benefits in case of maternity, disability and old age that are available under the formal economy social security scheme" and "collect, analyse and disseminate data, disaggregated by age and sex, in order to assess the situation of unpaid work, including caregiving".

However, Asian countries rate the worst in terms of non-recognition of unpaid work, with South Asia at the bottom of the ladder.

In March, we marked International Women's Day with the theme 'Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world'. But women in Nepal, as in many countries around the globe, continue to be bogged down by the household burden.

In Nepali society, women, by and large, bear the burden of rearing and caring for their children despite the law holding both the father and mother equally responsible for the care of their children.

Labour law requiring crèche facilities at the workplace of an organisation having 50 and more female staff has helped working women in their unpaid care work, however little it may be. However, the mere structural set up and policy provisions are not adequate.

Additionally, the social mindset and patriarchal division of labour, which entrust unpaid care task to women, need to be reviewed in the light of gender equality.

With COVID-19 putting an additional household load on women and girls, it is high time we analysed and recognised the unpaid care work provided by women at home and for the family.

Also unpaid work, being at the forefront of Agenda 2030, means that such work must be recognised in both statistics and policy, and addressed through public investment and programmes to address poverty.

For the purpose, women's unpaid care work needs to be computed in the national income, and should be acknowledged as economic activity and recognised through labour and social protection polices, which will be helpful in reducing their work burden and redistributing it across the genders.

Only by doing so can we ensure women's leadership and a gender equal future in the post-pandemic world.

Rana is an elected expert member of the UN CEDAW Committee from Nepal

A version of this article appears in the print on April 13, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.