Making women's work visible in Scotland

Much of the work done by women – caring, household management and support – is often undervalued and invisible. We know that this free, unrecognised work props up our society.  

graphic with an illustration of several women performing work like nursing, science and teaching while also doing household tasks like shopping, ironing and cleaning, with text which reads: women’s work is often unpaid, undervalued & invisible

What 'counts' as work?  

The economic calculations of governments and international financial institutions (like the International Monetary Fund, which monitors the 'economic health' of countries) normally only recognise value in paid work. Of course, we know that's not true, and misses out the vast value to society of care work, unpaid labour, volunteering and contributing to our communities. 

  • Around one third to a half of all valuable economic activity is not accounted for in traditional measures of economic performance ie GDP 

  • Globally, women undertake the majority of unpaid care work – only one third of their total work activity is spent in market based paid work 

  • Women devote, on average, more than twice as much time to household work as men. 

Why does it matter? 

a map of scotland overlaid with icons of women doing work in various locations

Women's equality cannot be realised while women still do so much more childcare, care for older and disabled people, and housework than men. Women's access to paid work, leisure time and power remains heavily constrained by these traditional social roles as carers and mothers. 

During the pandemic, research highlighted how women's unpaid labour increased, resulting in a collective loss of more than £15m a day in Scotland due to a significant displacement of care and childcare from services to households. Doing unpaid work pushes women into poverty, with women four times more likely than men to give up employment because of multiple caring roles. It also stops women studying, doing community work, and even using local services. 

Women also tend to act as managers of household budgets, especially spending on children and non-durable items like food and domestic products that are susceptible to price hikes during periods of inflation. The continuing cost of living crisis has disproportionately exposed women to the strain and anxiety of budgeting, including for energy bills, with clear implications for health and wellbeing. Women are more likely to have fallen behind with bills and to have skipped meals due to rising costs. 


a screenshot of the making work visible website showing women's stories and blogs

Since 2017, we've been marking International Women's Day by asking women across Scotland to share their day with us as part of our #MakingWorkVisible campaign to highlight women's work – in all its forms. 

Over the past six years, we've commissioned blogs, photos and video diaries and collected thousands of tweets chronicling the low-paid work dominated by women, the unpaid care work happening in houses across the country, household and childrearing chores that are unevenly distributed, and the mental labour that women are perceived to be "just naturally better at". 

Women have shared their experiences of juggling full-time work and parenthood, balancing after-school clubs, shopping lists and running for local office, the logistics and demands of providing unpaid care, working and volunteering in Scotland's third sector, and the importance of those closest to us recognising the importance of women's unpaid labour. We've heard from women from all across Scotland, including rural women, disabled women, BME women and those experiencing multiple forms of marginalisation. 

We're so incredibly thankful to everyone who has taken time out of their busy lives to share these stories, tweets and blogs with us, and you can see them all online here. 

What can you do? 

Our #MakingWorkVisible campaign may be over, but our work to recognise and document women's unpaid labour and work for women's substantive equality continues. 

Globally, different approaches are used to better recognise women's unpaid work so that it may be counted by policymakers. This is so that service design and delivery, as well as employment practices, take account of the unpaid work that props up the economy. 

  • Although women’s paid work has substantially increased over the last hundred years, we haven’t seen a balancing increase in men’s unpaid work. There is no reason, except cultural stereotypes, why women should do so much more domestic and reproductive labour. 

  • Unpaid work should not be a marginal note in assessments of how well our economy is functioning. We need national institutional commitment to making women’s unpaid work visible.  

  • Unpaid domestic and care work needs to be recognised, reduced, and redistributed from the household to the state by an increase of accessible, good quality childcare and social care. Within households, men and women should be enabled to do a 50/50 share of paid work and unpaid work. 

You can help support our work for women's equality by joining Engender or donating here, and you can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin and X, or sign up to our mailing list here to receive the latest feminist news, events and opportunities across Scotland.  

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