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Women Officially Work Longer Than Men In Their Lifetime

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Illustrated by Tania Lili.
It may be the 21st century, but young women entering the workforce today will work an average of four years longer than men during their working lives due to unpaid caring responsibilities.

This means that each year, women around the world spend an extra month on paid and unpaid work, because of their role in housework and caring for children, the sick and the elderly.

This is according to new research by charity ActionAid, which used data from U.N. Women and the International Labour Office for 217 countries, to highlight how unpaid care work is a burden on women worldwide, in both developed and developing countries.

The report, Not Ready, Still Waiting, said women in the UK can expect to work an extra two and a half years more than men over the course of their working lives.

The charity estimates that if women received an average wage for the extra hours they work compared to men, every woman globally would earn £41,000 more over her lifetime.

The charity's research supports the feminist theory that women face a "double burden", being responsible for both earning money in the workplace and for carrying out unpaid domestic labour, largely because of the continuing prevalence of traditional gender roles.

Women's unpaid care work results from entrenched, socially-constructed norms around the gendered division of labour: that women are naturally "caring" and "nurturing" and their "place is in the home", while men are "breadwinners", said Rachel Noble, policy adviser on Women’s Rights at ActionAid.

"These norms prevail among both men and women to varying degrees in virtually every country in the world," Noble told Refinery29. She added that they are used as a justification for denying women the right to paid work opportunities, education, participation in decision-making and rest and leisure time.

Austerity politics and policies, which are driving privatisation and a shrinking role for the state is exacerbating the problem in many countries by hampering poor women’s access to quality public services, Noble said.

"When public services and social protection measures are inadequate or face cuts, women are implicitly expected to fill the gap in state provision," she added.

Lax global and national tax rules that allow for widespread tax avoidance by multinational companies and wealthy individuals, along with tax incentives, are also denying countries huge amounts of money that could be used to fund public services crucial for women, added Noble.

To redress the problem, ActionAid is putting pressure on governments to deliver improved public care services, pass equal pay and family-friendly workplace legislation and agree minimum living wages. They are focusing particularly on developing countries where women are more likely to be affected and these provisions are less likely to exist already.

ActionAid released the report to coincide with a meeting of the UN high-level panel for women’s economic empowerment at the general assembly.

The charity says not enough progress has been made on launching policies to tackle inequality since the UN sustainable development goals were agreed last year.
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