Unpaid care work behind Tunisia's 'feminisation' of poverty

Women work at Tunisian designer Siraz Badis' workshop in eastern Tunisian city of Beni Khiar on August 12, 2022. Badis works on traditional purses, made of palm trees, adding her own designs before they can be used for market and bazaar shopping. (Photo by Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
4 min read

Tunisian women spend between eight and 12 hours per day engaged in unpaid care or housework, according to a study by the non-profit Oxfam in Tunisia, despite important advances towards gender equality made in recent decades.

This is adversely affecting their ability to advance in careers or obtain senior positions in the workplace.

The onus for women to perform unpaid caring duties is a major obstacle blocking women from economic opportunities which would start reducing the phenomenon of what has been dubbed the "feminisation" of poverty.

Gender affairs specialist Ahlam Bousirwal said to Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, The New Arab's Arabic-language sister edition: "The time spent by women on unpaid care work often stops them accessing work opportunities or training courses which could enhance their professional capabilities". She stresses this also has a detrimental effect on women's health and welfare.

Live Story

Bousirwal confirmed that burdening women with the bulk of this type of work is also preventing the development of Tunisia's care sector. This is an important economic sector which provides a large number and variety of paid jobs in developed countries, while in the Arab world women are forced to do this work with no financial return.

She adds that the care work provided by women contributes to the creation of wealth, of which women are deprived of their fair share.

The Oxfam study, done in partnership with the Association of Tunisian Women for Research and Development (AFTURD) revealed that Tunisian women spent between 33-50% of their time each day doing unpaid caring duties, while men spent an average of 3% of their time on this.

The Tunisian Ministry of Women, Family, Childhood and Seniors time-budget survey in Tunisia (2005/2010) has estimated the value of women's unpaid work at 23.8 billion Tunisian dinars annually - equivalent to $4 billion.

Meanwhile the Arab Institute for Heads of Institutions (Institut Arabe des Chefs d'Entreprises, IACE) have shown that Tunisian women earn, on average 14.6% less than men for the same jobs in some professions – meaning they would need to work 37 additional days per year to match a male salary.

While wage inequality in the state sector continues to go unaddressed, women also face difficulties advancing their careers and accessing senior management positions whatever their qualifications; while men are much more likely to continually progress throughout their careers.

Live Story

In June 2015, the Tunisian government signed an agreement with UN Women which included a pledge to form a working plan to achieve gender parity in the state sector.

However, according to the 2020 Global Gender Gap report, gender disparity in employment has increased in recent decades: Tunisia dropped from 90th to 124th in a list of 153 countries when it came to the gender gap. The ranking took economic participation and work opportunities into account (for which Tunisia dropped from 97th to 142nd).

Only 28% of Tunisian women were active in the labour market at the end of 2022 in contrast to 65.7% of men.

In general the situation is similar in the private and state sectors where men are predominantly to be found at the helm of companies across the different sectors as well as in the finance and banking institutions.

Social Sciences researcher, Najaa Araari says relying on women to do unpaid housework excludes them from a productive role and also reduces their contribution to economic growth and tax revenues, which in turn weakens state resources which are then neglecting supporting the economic advancement of women in the workplace, creating a vicious circle.

Araari confirmed that a study done by the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women showed that female workers in Tunisia work an average of over 17 hours daily due to having to do both their professional job and unpaid work in the home, which constitutes economic violence against women, who receive no health or social insurance for their unpaid work.

Live Story

The study showed women forced to do unpaid work are also often forced into insecure work in the parallel sector. Therefore, the necessity for women to enter these kinds of jobs in order to gain a measure of economic independence is also leading to an increasingly precarious economic model overall, according to her.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition with additional reporting. To read the original article click here.