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The objectives of this review are as follows:

(i) determine the contribution of infrastructure in reducing women’s time poverty and how this is being recorded;

(ii) determine if women’s time savings result from increased access to infrastructure and are used for productive work that also reduces consumption poverty;

(iii) assess ways in which infrastructure projects more effectively reduce both time and consumption poverty for women.

Allocation of time for different activities between individuals within the household is influenced by gender division of labor and social and cultural norms. All over the world, women work more hours than men; men spend more time in paid work, whereas women bear the burden of unpaid work. Much of this unpaid work relates to household tasks such as fetching water and collecting firewood; cooking; and caring for the family, including the children, the sick, and the elderly. This can result in time poverty for women, necessitating trade-offs with regard to allocating time, reducing their time for paid work, and depriving them of time for social or community activities to improve their status. The findings from time-use surveys in Asia and the Pacific clearly indicate these gendered patterns of time-use.

The review finds that basic infrastructure has the potential to reduce the time spent on housework and care work and influence the gender division of labor. However, infrastructure projects rarely include interventions to address this directly, even when reducing time burdens is a slated aim of the project.

The review also reveals that the impacts of improved infrastructure on women’s time poverty significantly differ across types of infrastructure.

Improved water supply has significant impacts on reducing the time women spend doing burdensome unpaid work but has little impact on the gender division of labor in the household.

For women and girls without access to improved sanitation, the amount of time needed each day to find a place to defecate, or to accompany children, is significant but has been largely invisible until recently.

Electricity also tends to reduce the amount of time spent on housework on care work, despite its limited use for cooking. Electricity sometimes has an impact on the amount of time women spend on paid work despite the reluctance to use electricity for cooking. An important impact of electricity is on the empowerment of women through increased access to information.

Improved transport infrastructure results in significant changes in the lives of women and girls, which impact on how their time is allocated to different tasks. However, the impacts of travel time on time poverty of women are complex due to the new opportunities that are opened up, adding new time-use demands on women in addition to their traditional roles.

There is a substantial gap in data indicating the relationships between infrastructure, time poverty, and women’s empowerment. Project-specific research could collect both quantitative and qualitative information and data to better understand such relationships.


Suggested Citation
Asian Development Bank. (2015). Balancing the burden? Desk review of women's time poverty and infrastructure in Asia and the Pacific. Manila: Author.

Required Publisher's Statement
© Asian Development Back. Available at ADB’s Open Access Repository under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY 3.0 IGO).