07/03/2016 12:12 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 05:12 GMT

If You Want to Tackle Poverty, Try Sharing the Housework


The year is 2133. The dream of the personal hover board has become a reality. And to cap it all off, women are finally paid the same as men at work.

This is no wild fantasy. The World Economic Forum recently projected that at current rates it would take 118 years for the gender pay gap to close. It's extraordinary to think that it will take until my great-great grand-daughters enter the job market for women to collect the same pay packet as their male counterparts. Globally the average gender pay gap is 24% and right now, in the United Kingdom, women earn 13.9% less than men.

But these figures fail to take into account the onus of unpaid chores like housework and childcare that disproportionately fall to women. A recent Oxfam survey found that women in the UK spend, on average, two working days per month more than men on chores like cooking, food shopping and childcare.

Regardless of their income and employment status, the women surveyed said they generally do more cooking, cleaning and childcare than their male partners. The poll found over two thirds of women feel they do the bulk of housework compared to less than a fifth of men. It's depressing that even in 21st century Britain, despite huge social changes, this archaic division of labour goes on.

Globally, this unpaid work by women could be worth as much as $10 trillion a year - 13% of global GDP. Women in poorer countries face even higher inequality because a lack of infrastructure, technology and public services means they spend more time in their day looking after their home and family. In sub-Saharan Africa, women spend five billion hours a year collecting water. Five billion hours. Just imagine if that time was invested in earning an income, taking up leadership positions or even just getting a good night's sleep. For girls, domestic responsibilities can eat into time for homework and impact on their education.

Inequality between women and men doesn't end there. The number of female heads of state and government has been growing slowly, and there are still only around 19 in the world today. Just one in five parliamentary seats worldwide is held by a woman. Among the 500 wealthiest people in the world, the proportion of women drops to just one in ten. One in three women experience sexual or physical violence - the majority of it at home.

This is all unacceptable and needs to change, and not just because it's wrong. Only by releasing women from the onus of housework, low wages and violence can we tackle poverty for everyone.

Things are changing. Oxfam works in 40 countries to make violence against women illegal and help women get justice. It also supports women to lead in creating the changes they want to see and taking collective action together. In Bangladesh, a new dairy cooperative is helping women get a fairer price at markets which are considered inappropriate places for them to go. In Zambia, we're working with men and boys to challenge the belief that hitting women earns them respect and we have seen a step-change in attitudes as a result. In Zimbabwe, we provide time-saving equipment like fuel-efficient stoves and we have seen men begin to take on more responsibilities.

But it needs action from us all. By investing in infrastructure to bring safe water close to the home, we can reduce the time and energy spent in walking to collect it. By campaigning for more investment in public healthcare, we can reduce women's responsibilities and free up their time for paid employment, or much needed leisure time. By teaching fathers and husbands about the importance of girls' education, we can help create the female leaders of tomorrow.

We can all play our part to make women unlimited - free from inequality - so they can improve their lives and we can move closer to winning the fight against poverty for all. This International Women's Day, Oxfam is inviting people to take a pledge to be part of the solution. This can be anything from sharing information or joining our campaign, to supporting our work with women around the world.

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