Girls Spend 550 Million Daily Hours on Domestic Chores Globally

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Girls under 15 years old spend 40 percent – or 160 million hours – more than boys their age on household chores every day globally, according to a recent UNICEF study.

Domestic work like cooking, cleaning, caring for family members and collecting water and firewood falls disproportionately on the shoulders of girls, who spend 550 million hours a day globally on these tasks. The work is often undervalued and less visible.

One round trip to collect water takes an average of about 33 minutes in rural sub-Sahara Africa, taking girls away from play, socialization or study time. Girls risk injury and exposure to sexual violence when walking to collect water.

As children grow older, the gap widens. Of children between 5 and 9 years old, girls spend 30 percent more time – or 40 million more hours – than boys on domestic chores every day, while 10-to-14-year-old girls tackle 50 percent more (or 120 million more hours) a day than boys their age. Boys are more likely to be involved in economic activities, the report said.

“The overburden of unpaid household work begins in early childhood and intensifies as girls reach adolescence,” UNICEF’s Principal Gender Advisor Anju Malhotra said. “As a result, girls sacrifice important opportunities to learn, grow, and just enjoy their childhood. This unequal distribution of labour among children also perpetuates gender stereotypes and the double-burden on women and girls across generations.”

The countries with the largest gaps are Yemen, Burkina Faso and Somalia, where 10-to-14-year-old girls spend an average of 26 hours a week on domestic work.

There are nearly 2 billion children in the world under the age of 15, most of whom live in developing countries. Of the 1.1 billion girls under 18, about 75 percent live in Asia or Africa, and the number of girls in Africa is expected to grow by 30 percent by 2030.

The gendered distribution of chores can affect girls’ potential and self-esteem when it socializes them into thinking girls and women are only suited for domestic work, the study said, with future ramifications apparent. In Zimbabwe, 81 percent of girls have had to drop out of school either temporarily or permanently at some point.

The undue burden of chores contributes to why so many girls are forced to drop out of school in developing countries. Other factors include child marriage and pregnancy, poverty and a lack of access to sanitary and private bathrooms.

Girls and boys have reached gender parity in primary schools in more than 66 percent of countries, but less than 50 percent have reached parity in secondary education. In West and Central Africa, 79 girls are enrolled in secondary school for every 100 boys.

In Tanzania, a study showed that school attendance increased 12 percent when water was available within 15 minutes compared with more than half an hour.

“Quantifying the challenges girls face is the first critical step towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goal on gender equality and breaking down barriers that confront the world’s 1.1 billion girls,” said UNICEF Chief of Data and Analytics Attila Hancioglu.

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