Harnessing time use data for gender equality policies and beyond


If there is something that we also share in this world, it is the number of hours in the day. However, the way we allocate and use these 24 hours differs significantly. The type of activities we undertake, their duration and their intensity can improve or compromise our well-being. Just like income, wealth or other resources, the availability, use and allocation of time can mean privilege or deprivation.

Interest in time allocation is not new and began over a century ago. This early interest ranged, for example, from evaluating the working time involved in production, quantifying wages in units of time and evaluating ways to increase productivity and, most importantly, understanding the impact of long working hours on the work-life balance of the working class. families. As women increasingly entered the paid work force in factories and offices, the concept of unpaid domestic work and care began to emerge more clearly. There was a desire to understand and assess the use of time between paid and unpaid work of women and also to measure the differences in the use of time between the contribution of women and men to unpaid work.

The methods of collecting data on time use evolved in the 20th century and became part of official statistics. These data have traditionally been used to understand how people allocate time to productive activities; how they combine paid work and family responsibilities; the distribution of unpaid work between women and men, such as cleaning, cooking, collecting water, caring for children and the elderly; and the contribution of this unpaid, otherwise invisible, work to the national economy.

Whether through a self-administered diary, a reminder interview, or a short to-do list, collecting data on time use records the different activities and tasks that individuals undertake on the job. during a given reference period. This is because time use statistics are quantitative summaries of how individuals spend or distribute their time over a period of time – typically 24 hours a day or seven days a week. Such data collection can provide the level of detail necessary to highlight, for example, patterns of activities (episodes or events) as well as the concurrency of activities (for example, cooking and babysitting at the same time) that individuals undertake.

Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls for recognizing and valuing unpaid domestic and care work as an accelerator of gender equality. Evidence suggests that much of the unpaid work is done by women and girls in most societies, often leaving them less time to focus on their well-being, such as education, activities generating income, access to health services or even recreation. Women and girls facing multiple and intersecting forms of inequality and discrimination are likely to be more disadvantaged in how they can allocate and use their time due to competing responsibilities and priorities.

From a political point of view, this clearly shows the need to intervene for a more equitable distribution of household and care-related tasks between women and men in families and societies. The political declaration on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth United Nations World Conference on Women called for “Recognize and take action to reduce and redistribute the disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work for women and girls and promote work-life balance and the equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men within the household. “

We must provide opportunities and means to make this possible through policy interventions such as paid paternity leave or parental leave, more flexible working arrangements for women and men, the availability of institutional care structures and appropriate social protection regimes.

Time use data can also provide information on policy issues beyond gender equality and unpaid work. It can help us understand models of the health and well-being of women, men, girls and boys by measuring the time they can devote to exercise, rest or leisure. Exposure of people to indoor and outdoor air pollution through time spent cooking, using dirty fuels, or commuting in city traffic environments. Access to clean energy, water and sanitation through time spent by household members collecting fuel and water. Or the visibility of the contribution of women and men to sustainable development through their commitment and their time spent in the management of natural resources and waste.

This clearly reflects the flexibility and versatility of these datasets to meet emerging information needs and new uses, which makes these datasets particularly useful in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals.

More than 30 countries have collected data on time use in the Asia-Pacific region through nearly 100 different data collection exercises – led mainly by the national statistical office. But most of the data has not been used – in part due to a lack of knowledge of policy applications. In this context, ESCAP worked with leading researchers and experts to compile a set of research studies to demonstrate the use of time use data by policies. Harnessing time use data for evidence-based policies, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Beijing Platform for Action guide and demonstrate the use and analysis of data on use of time for political advocacy.

Hopefully this resource will inspire national statistical systems to make better use of their existing time use data for policy relevant analyzes and to re-collect time use data as part of their program. official statistical work and their ambitions for sustainable development.


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