In nearly every country, women work longer hours than men, but are usually paid less and are more likely to live in poverty. In subsistence economies, women spend much of the day performing tasks to maintain the household, such as carrying water and collecting fuel wood. In many countries women are also responsible for agricultural production and selling. Often they take on paid work or entrepreneurial enterprises as well.
Unpaid domestic work – from food preparation to caregiving – directly affects the health and overall well being and quality of life of children and other household members. The need for women’s unpaid labour often increases with economic shocks, such as those associated with the AIDS pandemic or economic restructuring. Yet women's voices and lived experiences – whether as workers (paid and unpaid), citizens, or consumers – are still largely missing from debates on finance and development. Poor women do more unpaid work, work longer hours and may accept degrading working conditions during times of crisis, just to ensure that their families survive.
The differences in the work patterns of men and women, and the 'invisibility' of work that is not included in national accounts, lead to lower entitlements to women than to men. Women’s lower access to resources and the lack of attention to gender in macroeconomic policy adds to the inequity, which, in turn, perpetuates gender gaps. For example, when girls reach adolescence they are typically expected to spend more time in household activities, while boys spend more time on farming or wage work. By the time girls and boys become adults, females generally work longer hours than males, have less experience in the labour force, earn less income and have less leisure, recreation or rest time.
This has implications for investments in the next generation. If parents view daughters as less likely to take paid work or earn market wages, they may be less inclined to invest in their education, women's fastest route out of poverty.
UNFPA is committed to actions to attack poverty and powerlessness, especially among women. About half of the UNFPA programme countries have developed strategies to provide women with economic opportunities. The Fund has supported economic empowerment and micro-credit initiatives in Bangladesh, Chad, Kenya, Morocco, Palestinian women’s centres, Tajikistan and elsewhere. As part of its Campaign to End Fistula, UNFPA also supports skills training for who have been marginalized by this debilitating injury of childbirth. UNFPA strongly supports addressing the feminization of poverty through the integration of gender concerns in macro economic policy and in poverty reduction strategies.
In Chad, a two-pronged programme unites microcredit and reproductive health education: while young women receive support that can lead to economic independence, they also learn to protect themselves against HIV and other reproductive health problems.
In the Lao People's Democratic Republic, a seed fund is helping women gain respect – as economic partners, as well as mothers and wives. Women are learning about reproductive health issues through the programme as well.
In Bangladesh, a UNFPA-supported microcredit project provides skills training and small business loans to women, and also supports reproductive health and family planning services.
In Viet Nam, UNFPA and partners support national efforts that link economic empowerment, environmental management and reproductive health services. Participation involves 500 Women’s Savings Groups in nine provinces with a membership of over 12,000 women.