Unseen Hands: The Invisible Labour Of Women In Our Economy

Women's labour remains undervalued & unnoticed, sidelined in economic discussions, perpetuating gender inequalities. Female labour force participation underscores this disparity. Unpaid household work, wage gaps, and biased perceptions hinder progress.

Harnur Watta
Aug 28, 2023 20:43 IST
Image credits: The Times of India

Image credits: The Times of India

In a world driven by progress and development, the intricate contributions of women's labour often remain obscured, hidden behind societal norms and economic paradigms that fail to acknowledge the true worth of their efforts. 

Discussions about labour often focus on industries, technologies, and market trends, but the overlooked and underappreciated facet of women’s labour that forms the backbone of societies across the globe remains veiled.

Despite women's immense contributions to both formal and informal sectors, their efforts have been consistently sidelined, leading to an alarming lack of recognition and inclusion in economic discussions. 

The Veiled Workforce


Women's labour is multifaceted and far-reaching, encompassing unpaid domestic work, caregiving responsibilities, and participation in the informal economy.

The Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS Jul 2021-Jun 2022) highlights a glaring statistic: "29.4 per cent of women (aged 15-59) were part of India’s labour force in 2021-22, as compared to 29.8 per cent in the preceding year." 

Despite the indispensable role of women’s labour in sustaining households and communities, it remains invisible within conventional economic frameworks.


Domestic Labour: A Silent Engine

Behind closed doors, an entire universe of labour goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

Domestic labour, often described as the "invisible work," constitutes a substantial portion of women's contributions. Yet, it seldom receives the recognition it deserves. 


The role of women as homemakers, caregivers, and nurturers has long been relegated to the sidelines. 

In many societies, these tasks are seen as inherent responsibilities, blurring the lines between unpaid labour within households and the broader economic landscape. 

Cooking, cleaning, childcare, and eldercare – all integral components of domestic labour – are dismissed as routine tasks, failing to account for the time and effort invested. This perspective inadvertently perpetuates the stereotype that such tasks are innate to women, erasing the laborious nature of these activities.


The stark contrast between the amount of time spent on domestic activities by women and men signifies a significant disparity in the distribution of domestic responsibilities. 

This significant percentage underscores the magnitude of hidden labour that contributes to the sustenance of families, yet often remains unaccounted for in economic discussions.

Domestic labour extends beyond household chores. Emotional labour, mental load, and caregiving responsibilities demand time and effort, often compromising opportunities for women's personal and professional growth


Society must recognise that domestic labour is indeed labour, deserving of respect and acknowledgement, and incorporate it into the economic discourse.

The failure to acknowledge the significance of this labour in economic discussions contributes to the perpetuation of gender inequalities.

Caring Professions: A Double Bind 


Another dimension of women's labour is unpaid care work, which encompasses caregiving for children, the elderly, and individuals with disabilities. 

This form of labour, though invaluable, is often marginalised due to its informal nature. According to the OECD, globally, women devote approximately 3 to 6 hours per day to unpaid care work, which is more than 2 to 10 times men spend on such activities ("Unpaid Care Work: The Missing Link in the Analysis of Gender Gaps in Labour Outcomes").

This disparity has a ripple effect on women's participation in the formal workforce. The absence of support systems for care responsibilities frequently forces women to opt for part-time or lower-paying jobs, hindering their economic empowerment.

In essence, the lack of recognition and measurement of unpaid care work skews our understanding of women's true economic contributions.

Furthermore, women often find themselves disproportionately represented in caring professions such as nursing, teaching, and social work. 

These fields require immense emotional labour, empathy, and dedication. However, these attributes are often dismissed as "natural" qualities possessed by women, rather than skills honed through rigorous training and experience. 

Even within the labour force, women are more likely to be employed in vulnerable, low-paying jobs. 

This discrepancy not only deprives them of fair wages but also perpetuates the narrative that their labour is less valuable.

Informal Economy: Disregarded and Unrecorded

Women's participation in the informal economy further compounds the issue of unrecognised labour. 

In numerous developing nations, women engage in activities such as street vending, subsistence farming, and home-based work, which often remain unaccounted for in economic assessments. 

The World Employment and Social Outlook report of 2021 indicates that women constitute a substantial amount of the informal workforce globally.

This substantial contribution to the economy remains unacknowledged and inadequately integrated into economic policies and strategies. 

The exclusion of these contributions not only hampers women's economic agency but also weakens the accuracy of economic growth estimates.

A Call for Change

The present situation demands a paradigm shift in how we perceive, evaluate, and incorporate women's labour into economic frameworks. 

Failure to address this issue perpetuates gender disparities, hindering social progress and economic growth. To initiate change, a multifaceted approach is required.

Firstly, recognising and valuing domestic and care work as economically significant tasks is imperative. 

This involves raising awareness about the time, effort, and skill required for such activities and dismantling traditional gender norms that perpetuate their invisibility.

Secondly, accurate measurement and integration of women's participation in the informal economy are essential. 

Collecting data and statistical insights that accurately reflect the extent of women's involvement in various sectors will provide a clearer picture of their contributions to the economy.

Women's labour constitutes a vital yet undervalued force that sustains families, communities, and economies

By bringing domestic work, unpaid care labour, and informal sector contributions into the economic discourse, we can ensure a more comprehensive understanding of our economies and work towards a fairer, more inclusive future. 

We must challenge the traditional notions of labour and recognise the multifaceted contributions of women as integral to the economic fabric of society. By giving due credit to their work, we not only empower women but also pave the way for a more inclusive and prosperous future.

Views expressed by the author are their own

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#Women Labour Partcipation #gender gap #Periodic Labour Force Survey #Caring Professions #Domestic Labour