Gender gaps in time use

The Cayman Islands, which was long dubbed the Islands Time Forgot, transformed over the span of 50 odd years from a sleepy farming and fishing village way of life to an economically progressive jewel of the Caribbean. In the Cayman of yesteryear, when families worked together from home to produce goods and services, childbearing and rearing co-existed more easily because children were not considered a financial burden on a household but were viewed as future participants in the subsistence activities of the home.

This transformation into the modern way of life that we now know included the participation of women in employment not only in the private sphere of households as paying employers but into the paid economy of the public sphere. While international research has shown that the participation of women in the paid economy benefits not only their families but also the development of the country, the resulting changes within households have created a gender gap in time use between women and men. The increased demand for women’s time and skills in the labour market has not resulted in a compatible increase of men’s time in the household regarding caregiving work for children and/or the elderly. The corporate or public sectors have also not introduced onsite daycare or well established adult daycare programmes. As a result of these employment changes, relationships between spouses, partners, and members of the households have transformed. Households in the Cayman Islands have become heavily depended on immigrant domestic workers -almost exclusively female- to provide the caregiving and other critical domestic work.

Paid and unpaid work

Regardless of where you call home, what currency you use or what language you speak, time is the one thing in the world that needs no currency conversion chart or an interpreter. Every day consists of 24 hours and everyone has the same amount of time allotted to them per day. However, what a person does within those 24 hours is often times influenced by whether a person is male or female. Additionally, what one does with his or her time during those 24 hours determines whether or not they will be paid and how much they will be compensated.

Based on data from the 2010 Census of Population and Housing, females overall in the Cayman Islands performed paid work an average of 36 hours per week compared with 42.6 hours performed by males. However, Non-Caymanian females worked 42 hours per week on average, which was more than both Caymanian females (30.8 hours) and Caymanian males (37.3 hours). Non-Caymanian males averaged the longest work week at 47.9 hours of paid work.

While the 2010 Census did not measure time use of caregiving tasks, the 1999 Cayman Islands Population and Housing Census did. That census revealed that females aged 15 and older when compared to their male counterparts spend more time doing unpaid housework and unpaid child care, and the residents of East End, North Side and Cayman Brac spent more time on unpaid housework than other districts. On average, females spent 13.5 hours and males spent 7.2 hours on unpaid housework per week.

Excluding persons who did not spend any time on child care, the average time spent by persons delivering unpaid child care was 19.1 hours with females spending 22.5 hours and males 13.7 hours per week. Interestingly, 15.5 per cent of the 1999 population reported spending time on unpaid elderly care with males and females 15 years or older spending comparable amounts of time. Females spent 5.7 hours and males 5.3 hours per week.

Effects of the gender gaps in time use

Unpaid work by women and men benefits many people both inside and outside the household, but often times this unpaid work is so intrinsically linked to feminine gender roles that women are expected to carry out these unpaid tasks regardless of their paid employment status. Therefore because women continue to bear the greatest responsibility for them and spend the most time on unpaid childrearing, caregiving and domestic work, this affects the amount of time that they are able to engage in the paid economy. Often times this puts women in financially vulnerable positions because they are not able to earn an income in the same manner as men.

In the 2010 Census, chronic non-communicable diseases were more prevalent among females and this gender gap was widest for persons with high blood pressure. It gives reason to wonder if women’s load of multi-tasking both paid and unpaid work has not only left them unable to earn more money in the paid economy but also exhausted and putting their health at risk.

Promoting gender equality

What can be done to help close the gender gaps in time use? As a society, private and public sector organisations can encourage family friendly policies around issues such as maternity and paternity leave, parental leave, flexible work hours and locations, onsite or referred child care assistance and flexible workforce entry and re-entry opportunities. Employers can ensure that women and men are receiving equal pay for work of equal value and they are in compliance with other areas of the Gender Equality Law.

On an individual level, we can begin to teach our children that caregiving and housework are not demeaning activities but they are valuable and necessary skills that ensure the effective running of a household and positively benefit society in the long run. By also not stereotyping these activities for only girls or women to perform, we are one step closer to closing the gender gaps in time use.

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