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Estimating unpaid labour integral to achieving SDG 5

| Updated: February 15, 2021 20:37:35

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Estimating unpaid labour integral to achieving SDG 5

In recent decades, Bangladesh has made substantial progress in narrowing down gender inequality. This paves the way towards achieving Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. Ranking 50th among 153 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, Bangladesh managed to curb gender disparities in various areas. Despite that lack of accounting for unpaid labour often contributes to undermining the recognition of the true value of women's contribution to the economy.

Under SDG 5, Target 5.4 expressly affirms that unpaid domestic and care work should be valued and recognised through policy provisions. While women take up a larger portion of domestic labour than men in most households worldwide, there is no simple procedure to estimate this unpaid contribution to the economy. The value of women's unpaid domestic work was found to be 76.8 per cent of Bangladesh's GDP in FY 2013-14 based on the replacement method, and 87.2 per cent based on the willingness to accept method (Khatun et al., 2015). The same research mentions that on average, a household's female member takes on 12.1 non-SNA (System of National Accounts) tasks on a normal day, while a male counterpart partakes in 2.7 tasks. In addition, Bangladesh has never considered unpaid work as the national statistical office prepares its national account estimates, overlooking women's contribution to the economy. GDP estimates in Bangladesh took into account 98 per cent of men's production, but in the case of women only 47 per cent was considered according to Hamid (1996).

GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE TOWARDS ACCOUNTING WOMEN'S UNPAID WORK: While the Sustainable Development Goals call for the valuation of unpaid work, academic literature worldwide does not have an undisputed perspective. Several literatures do not support the inclusion of unpaid work in the national accounts, arguing that this might lead to overstating of income in poor households, which in turn will misrepresent the living standards at a micro-level.

On the other hand, some developed nations have undertaken the household satellite accounts approach to include women's unpaid work in their national accounting system. Some literature even goes so far as to promote the inclusion of unpaid work in the SNA. Hirway (2015) asserts that incuding unpaid work into the labour market analyses is important since this could help countries plan more pragmatic labour and employment policies.

One of several methods to incorporate women's unpaid domestic work in the economy's accounts is the so-called triple 'R' method suggested by Elson (2008). Firstly, recognition of unpaid labour assures that the unpaid work is perceivable in the SNA. Secondly, a persistent effort towards the reduction of unpaid work is essential by lessening the toil through improved infrastructure and productivity. Finally, redistribution of the workload between male and female household members is crucial to change the traditional patriarchal standards.

HOUSEHOLDS SATELLITE ACCOUNTS APPROACH: The Statistical Commission of the United Nations (UN) approved the actual form of SNA in 1993, which was the first time when awareness was created for the need to account for such unpaid labour. Following that awareness, some developed nations came up with an initiative to start a satellite account for unpaid domestic activities and volunteer work, by using a disaggregated data of physical and monetary accounting to complement traditional accounts. However, combining unpaid work in Bangladesh's national accounts faces three main obstacles.

Firstly, conceptual challenges regarding the definitions of voluntary work, leisure and unpaid work can change how the 'work' is accounted for while estimating national accounts. Definition of leisure, for instance, varies from household to household. Gardening might be considered a leisure activity in some households while a chore in others.

Second, methodological challenges exist in terms of assigning value, as literatures tend to follow diverse methodologies, some of which are namely opportunity cost methodology, replacement cost methodology and hybrid replacement methodology (ILO, 2011). The literature on Bangladesh mostly uses the former two methodologies, with the opportunity cost method assigning a suitable average wage rate to the number of hours worked, in order to obtain the monetary value of the unpaid work hours. In cases where the unpaid hours are considered to be for leisure activities, the wage is considered zero. The replacement cost methodology considers the cost of hiring someone to do the unpaid work as the economic value of the women's domestic work. Aside from the questions regarding methodologies, there are also issues of the methodology to calculate multitasking and the risks of double-counting paid work.

Thirdly, there remain data challenges regarding the frequency and depth of data collection. Labour Force Surveys (LFSs) can be useful to measure volunteer work, as long as all the details of women's unpaid work get collected. ILO Manual on the Measurement of Volunteer Work states that the country requires information on at least the following variables to measure volunteer work through a satellite account:

• number of persons (with gender) involved in unpaid work;

• number of hours involved in unpaid work;

• type of unpaid work performed (i.e. occupation);

• the institutional setting of the unpaid work performed; and

• field (industry) in which the unpaid work is performed.

Since the current LFSs fail to account for the following core variables, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) may consider adding a 'volunteer supplement' to the LFSs periodically, along with accounting for these core variables for both men and women in all future surveys. In order to do so, the National Strategy for the Development of the Statistics (NSDS) under the Capacity Building of BBS project needs to be leveraged so that it can enrich the National Statistical System by producing timely and reliable statistics to help policy formulation. The government needs to either launch an independent LFS to collect data on women's unpaid labour on a pilot basis or broaden the data collection scope of LFS to facilitate the incorporation of a household satellite account in the SNA. Narrowing down the discrimination will further require awareness campaigns from the school level; so that household works are shared among male and female family members.

Bangladesh should undertake the required policy steps for accounting for women's unpaid labour to uphold the SDG commitment to "leave no one behind."


Dr Fahmida Khatun is the Executive Director at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
[email protected]

Towqul Islam Khan is a Senior Research Fellow at the CPD.
[email protected]

Kazi Golam Tashque is a former Research Associate at the CPD. [email protected]

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