More than half the sky

Updated: 2013-05-02 08:00

(China Daily)

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On this anniversary of the international labor movement, we wish to bring to the attention of both the public and policy-makers the greater burden of unpaid labor that Chinese women are bearing.

Many countries are examining the amount of unpaid work women undertake, without which our world would be a far worse place. For example, women do two thirds of the 25 billion hours of unpaid work undertaken across North America. Women and men in Australia have similar workloads but women spend 6.4 times as many hours doing unpaid work.

For the first time in the Chinese context, a valuation of unpaid work has been estimated by using data from "China 2008 Time Use Survey" in a research study. Supported by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), researchers An Xinli and Dong Xiaoyuan found that Chinese women do much more unpaid work than Chinese men. Men spend on average 42 hours in paid work compared to 30.7 hours for females. For unpaid work, men spend just 10.6 hours compared to 27.3 hours for females. Added together, women are spending 58 hours a week on both paid and unpaid work, which is 5.4 hours per week more than men's total work time. The report indicates that women's ability to trade off paid work for unpaid work is nowhere near men's ability to do so in the Chinese context. The authors further conclude that "the value assigned to unpaid work varies from 25 to 32 percent of China's official GDP" in 2008. This represents a huge contribution, by Chinese women, to the economic and social well-being of society that is not only unpaid, it is unrecognized in official economic statistics.

While unpaid work is essential to the well being of families and society in general, the constraints that a greater amount of unpaid work places on women and the consequent advantages that a lesser amounts of unpaid work gives men is significant. The reduced ability to trade-off negatively affects women's capacity to have a more balanced life and pursue more education, gain higher economic status, and join more political, cultural and environmental endeavors, key advantages that men are more likely to enjoy. Another point to consider is what kind of consequences changing the status quo facilitating more equal participation of women in the paid workforce and encouraging men to take on more of the household and child care work burden could have on male and female relationships and, therefore, on the creation of a harmonious and more equal society in China.

UN Women China office hopes that this research will encourage policy makers to re-evaluate the needs and position of women in today's China. It would seem that Chinese women have been holding up more than half the sky while receiving less support in return for their labor. In the long run, this approach is not sustainable.

Julia Broussard, country programme manager of UN Women China Office.

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(China Daily 05/02/2013 page9)