W+ Notes#1: Answering Melinda Gates’ call for a focus on Time Poverty and Unpaid Care Labor

March 8, 2016

International Women’s Day provides chance to reflect on what we have achieved and are planning to achieve for women. This March 8, I would like to introduce a regular note to share thoughts and updates on our work at WOCAN, particularly with the development of the W+ Program. 

This month began with an inspiring video and note from Melinda Gates on what she sees as a key constraint to women’s empowerment: time. We could not agree more. Time constraints are common to women across the globe, and for many this is a key constraint that holds them back from individual growth and economic empowerment, while also limiting their contributions to groups and collective actions, that could be key to addressing global problems of climate change, food security and poverty. Technologies that supply clean water and renewable energy can be transformational for women’s lives, but so can opportunities that expose them to new ways of working and sharing resources with other women, through education and leadership.

Melinda also talks about unpaid care labor and its disproportional burden on women (4.5 hours/day for women vs. less than 2 hour/day for men, globally). Women who are providers of food, education and healthcare for their families and communities are not compensated for unpaid care labor. Neither are they compensated for the global environmental benefits provided through their labor and knowledge of forest management and sustainable agriculture, maintenance of carbon-reducing technologies, or waste management. 

Despite the attention to this by economists for decades, there seem to be few concrete examples of how to compensate women for the social and environmental goods they generate. What is needed as a benefit sharing mechanism to channel funds and revenues to women’s groups – which we believe are key to addressing the big challenges faced by the world today, for climate change, food security and poverty – so they can independently make decisions about how to allocate resources that best fit their needs. 

WOCAN created the W+ Standard/certification system to incentivize governments, NGOs and others to invest in technologies and activities that result in women’s time savings and other benefits and measure the impacts. So far, the W+ has measured time saved through the use of biogas and improved cook stoves that save as much as 2.2 hours/day for women that rely on fuel wood for cooking (amounting to 825 hours per year. Women are keen to use that newly freed up time for productive uses; in Nepal, they want to learn of new farming techniques, help their children with school work, increase their own skills and volunteer in community activities; in Kenya, they wish to earn income to pay school fees for their children; in Honduras, women expressed interest in forming groups to receive skills training for small businesses development.The provision of access to technologies that reduce women’s workloads and generate time saving for women is the first critical step for women’s empowerment, but this must be accompanied by initiatives that support to their aspirations (and measure the results of these actions) to realize the full potential of time savings for women’s empowerment.

The Application of the W+ Standard to community level projects allows for the quantification and monetization of social goods provided by women, through a process to measure and verify outcomes that are expressed in W+ units for Time Saving, Income/Assets, Health, Food Security, Education/Knowledge and Leadership. These units can be purchased by individuals, companies, or funders to contribute to verifiable impacts for women’s empowerment in these areas. Revenues from unit sales pay for costs for project activities and measurement, and are shared with women’s groups that receive a direct donation.

To date, funding and investments in gender and women have been insignificant. Only 2% of international aid money is allocated to gender equality; less than 1% of budgets allocated by governments for addressing the Millennium Development Goals was specifically targeted at addressing women’s rights or tackling gender equality. And women’s organizations receive just 9% of the funding, even though they have “historically been closest to transforming the position of women and girls in societies.” Despite growing recognition of the critical role of women in sustainable development, only 10% of investments in agriculture and environment reach women. 

As panelists in a recent conference on Gender Equality as a Private Sector Priority: A Triple Win for Companies, Consumers, and Developing Countries agreed: accountability and reporting are key. Holding companies and funders accountable – either through certification systems that verify their investments in gender equality – or through other mechanisms that encourage corporations to collect data and report on how they are integrating gender equality into their business models – will be critical if global goals related to gender equality are going to be met. 

We are keen to see how funders like the Gates, as well as corporations, investors and individuals, now take action to reverse this trend, to tear down these barriers to sustainable development. We all have a role to play. Can WOCAN’s W+ model provide a way to compensate women for their unpaid care labor for both social and environmental goods, recognize their contributions their families and communities, and provide critical resources to women’s associations so that we may all avail of the contributions they bring to the planet?