A recent study found that Indian women suffer from the effects of acute ‘time poverty’ more than any other country in the world except Kazakhstan. On average, women in India work nine hours a day, compared to the seven hours that Indian men work.
As Akshay Kohli and Chandrima Das of FSG, a strategic planning, evaluation and implementation consulting firm, write over at India Development Review, “rural women spend over a quarter of their waking hours cooking, gathering fuel, and cleaning utensils”. This kind of work is often unpaid (and thankless), and also gives women less time to pursue leisure or paid activities. Kohli and Das further observe that that “women’s time poverty and their status in society are intertwined.” Since women often aren’t paid for the hard and very skilled work they do, it tends to be devalued, affecting the perception of women, the way they spend their time, and their contributions to sustaining the family, society and country.
But as Sneha Rajaram pointed out in this excellent piece on women’s labour we published in 2016, it isn’t all about women’s contributions to the nation. Efforts to address women’s unpaid labour (and therefore also naturally time poverty) thus far have often been problematically directed towards simply “unlocking their GDP potential” for the greater good of improving the nation’s prospects, instead of improving their financial lives for the sake of benefitting actual women.
Time poverty has been called the “gender gap we don’t talk about”, and is often not even seen or recognised as an active force that keeps women from leading fuller and better lives. Melinda Gates was widely lauded for bringing attention to alleviating time poverty back in 2016, and seems to be the poster child for the cause in terms of being its most visible champion. When asked in an interview what superpower she’d like to have, Gates responded saying “more time”, and once wrote in a letter addressed to teenagers that “unless things change, girls today will spend hundreds of thousands more hours than boys doing unpaid work simply because society assumes it’s their responsibility.”
Kohli and Das point out that in India, rural women’s time poverty can be alleviated hugely with one change – moving away from using free biomass fuels for cooking, and shifting to LPG. They found that “rural women were spending nearly four-and-a-half hours every day on cooking and related activities”, and that “nearly 80 percent of women in rural India use free biomass fuels, which “take time to gather and prepare, and are highly inefficient to cook with”.