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Who Cares?

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Aatif Somji

1. Introduction

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1Gender gaps present themselves in a number of ways across labour markets, consistently to the detriment of women (e.g. ILO 2016, 2018a). One way in which gender gaps occur in labour markets is the difference in returns to capital of microenterprises owned by men and women. This focus on microenterprise is particularly relevant in the developing country context, where the majority of employment is in the informal sector (ILO, 2018b). Research conducted on gender gaps in returns to capital among micro-entrepreneurs in low-income countries generally find that returns for women are considerably lower than they are for men (e.g. De Mel et al. 2009; Fiala 2018). Several hypotheses regarding differences between men and women have been put forward in an attempt to explain this, including entrepreneurial ability, attitudes to risk, sectors of employment and preferences for household expenditure (e.g. de Mel et al. 2009; Berge et al. 2015).

2One key difference between men and women that could help explain these gender gaps, and that appears to have been overlooked in the literature, is that of unpaid care and domestic work. Across the world, this work is overwhelmingly carried out by women (Ferrant et al. 2014). This thesis puts forward the hypothesis that the unequal distribution of unpaid care and domestic work between men and women could be contributing to the observed gender gap in returns to capital among microenterprises. The research question examined throughout the study is whether unpaid care and domestic work is a significant constraint to female microenterprise development.

3Determining the answer to this question requires accurately calculating how much time is being dedicated to unpaid care and domestic work by women micro-entrepreneurs, assessing whether this work is a key constraint to enterprise development, and investigating whether these responsibilities are specific to women. Primary data was collected from women micro-entrepreneurs in Luwero District, Uganda, to respond to these questions. Time-use surveys were used to estimate the time-allocation of the women, while questionnaires established their key constraints to business development as well as social norms around the distribution of unpaid care and domestic work between men and women.

4Analyses of the results suggest that unpaid care and domestic work is indeed a significant constraint to female microenterprise development. The women spend a considerable amount of time on unpaid care and domestic work, with most of them either temporarily pausing their paid work to carry out these responsibilities or conducting both simultaneously. Unpaid care and domestic work is also reported by the women as a key constraint to enterprise development. Finally, the distribution of unpaid care and domestic responsibilities appear to be strongly gender-specific: these tasks are overwhelmingly carried out by women and girls.

5The key implication of these findings is that addressing gender inequality in unpaid care and domestic work could potentially narrow the gender gap in returns to capital in microenterprise. Reducing total unpaid care and domestic work requires investment in relevant time-saving social and physical infrastructure. Addressing social norms on the gendered distribution of unpaid care and domestic work could then redistribute this work more equitably between males and females. The effects of reducing and redistributing unpaid care and domestic work on the business outcomes of male and female micro-entrepreneurs should therefore be explored further.

6The thesis is structured across five sections. The Literature Review outlines the broader context within which this research is situated, combining economic and feminist literature to propose an alternative framework for analysing gender gaps within the microenterprise context. The Case Study chapter then physically situates the research, providing an overview of the social and economic context of Luwero District, Uganda. The Methodology section explores what specific data was collected for this research, how it was gathered and how it was analysed. The Results and Analysis chapter presents the results of the field research, synthesising the key findings to elaborate on the extent to which unpaid work is a significant barrier to female microenterprise development. The Conclusion reviews the full research process, closing with a set of broader implications of the findings on gender gaps in microenterprise.

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