“Mucho macho,” “poco” women: Counting women’s work in Mexico

Anairis Hernandez and Estela Rivero, getting ready to begin the Counting Women’s Work project in Mexico

Anairis Hernandez and Estela Rivero, getting ready to begin the Counting Women’s Work project in Mexico

by Anairis Hernandez and Estela Rivero

In Mexico, the economic crisis of the 1980s propelled many women who never worked before to join the labour force. Mexican women are twice as likely to participate in labour markets than their grandmothers. However, just less than half of Mexican women are part of the labour force. They tend to have lower ranking occupations; and their hourly earnings remain below those of men. So it is unsurprising that women’s economic contribution is lower than men’s. But this assessment misses productive activities that women perform at home such as cooking and caring for children and the elderly. These household activities bring multiple health, income, and education benefits to all family members. Mexican men—and their counterparts in other countries—spend on average a mere 2.5 hours a day in household chores, about half the time women do.

Women’s economic empowerment has now become a priority both for the Mexican government and for international agencies working in Mexico. In addition, Mexico’s National Population Council aims to focus on the multiple effects of population ageing and the changing structure of Mexican families today. The National Plan of Action 2013-2018 states explicitly that one of the objectives of the current Mexican administration is gender equality. As President Peña Nieto started his government in 2012, Ministries and State dependencies are now drafting their own action plans for the next five-year period. All these developments make the project timely and relevant for Mexico.

Under the project “Counting Women’s Work” funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the IDRC and which started in January 2014, the Mexican team will examine how much of women’s work goes unnoticed in the economy, how much this has changed in the last decade, and why. Evidence shows that both household responsibilities and education levels are associated with how individuals use their time. The researchers will help identify target groups for direct policy interventions, such as groups with specific schooling, and women with and without children. Some of the researchers’ previous work is to appear in the upcoming book "Uso del tiempo y trabajo no remunerado en México" (Time Use and Non-paid work in Mexico), published by El Colegio de México and UNWomen. The lead researchers in the project are Dr. Estela Rivero, a Princeton University graduate and professor at El Colegio de Mexico, and Ms. Anairis Hernandez, who recently graduated from the master's in demography at El Colegio. They will use the methodology proposed by the National Transfer Accounts, funded by IDRC and other donors. Sex-disaggregated data, time transfers and non-market labour permit to build National Time Transfer Accounts (NTTA), as they are now known. These new accounts provide an excellent framework to analyse gender issues within the mainstream economic measures.

Other countries represented in the project are also in Latin America (Costa Rica and Colombia), as well as in Asia (India and Vietnam), and Africa (Ghana, Kenya, Senegal and South Africa). The project is led and coordinated by Dr. Gretchen Donehower at University of California, Berkeley, U.S.A. and Morné Oosthuizen at University of Cape Town, South Africa.