Insights Blog

Visualize Gender Equality: Perspectives on Unpaid Work in the Times of COVID-19

Blog snapshot

  • The second in a series of blogs covering the Viz5 project (introduced in our previous blog post) which sees Exasol’s non-profit partner, Operation Fistula, partnering with #MakeoverMonday and Tableau to visualize gender equality.
  • Helen Davies, Chief of Staff at Operation Fistula introduces the focus of this month’s data set, early findings, and some of the challenges with the data.

Let me start by saying that I hope you are all doing ok, and keeping safe and healthy in your self-isolation. These are unprecedented and uncertain times.

As we were preparing to share the second Viz5 data set, the team at Operation Fistula, and our partners at Tableau and #MakeoverMonday, discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on our work to visualize gender equality. We know that in times of crisis, it is typically women and girls, and the most vulnerable, that are disproportionately affected. As a result, we made the decision for the April data set to feature data with a direct connection to issues that have come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is why this month we’re focusing on the theme of unpaid work.

Over the last few weeks it has become impossible to overlook the extraordinary contribution that unpaid work makes to everyday life and the global economy. We have seen schools close, elderly quarantined, jobs transformed into fully remote home-based activities, and many jobs lost, with vast numbers of people left without an economic or social safety-net. The impact of this pandemic goes far beyond the immediate and extreme public-health emergency, and to the heart of how the workforce and global economy functions.

COVID-19, gender inequality, and its impact on the most vulnerable

There is still a huge amount of uncertainty in the global COVID-19 data, but we can say with confidence that this pandemic will disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people – those living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), where the impact of this pandemic on everyday life will be extreme.

A recent article published in The Lancet begins to look at the gendered impacts that the COVID-19 outbreak could have, and recalls data and experience from the 2014-2016 west African Ebola outbreak:

“Gendered norms meant that women were more likely to be infected by the virus, given their predominant roles as caregivers within families and as front-line health-care workers. Women were less likely than men to have power in decision making around the outbreak, and their needs were largely unmet. For example, resources for reproductive and sexual health were diverted to the emergency response, contributing to a rise in maternal mortality in a region with one of the highest rates in the world.”

What can we learn from the latest data set?

The Viz5 data set that was shared on Sunday reveals that, on average, women spend approximately three times more hours per day doing unpaid domestic work and care-giving than men. This means that women have significantly less time to spend pursuing paid work, educational opportunities, or their own leisure and self-care.

There is no question that this pandemic will magnify existing global inequities and injustices, and it is highly likely that women and girls will experience the most extreme effects of this magnification. It is for this reason that Viz5 decided to share this data. This month, we are seeking to recognize the extraordinary economic and social impact that unpaid work has on our global community. Viz5 wants to help to raise awareness of this issue – encouraging people to advocate for the value of unpaid care and unpaid domestic work to be recognized, and for the provision of public services, social protections, and infrastructure to promote equal and shared household and family responsibilities.

As Ai-jen Poo, the American labor activist, and director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, says:

“Care work, historically associated with the unpaid work of homemakers or the poorly paid work of women of color and immigrant women, remains undervalued and virtually invisible to public consciousness. We’ve now entered a new era, where our collective failure to account for family care work has become untenable.”

Where is the data coming from and what are the challenges?

The data that the Viz5 team selected to share on Sunday is taken from the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD). It is based on time-use surveys conducted between 1966 – 2015, across 85 countries worldwide.

This particular UNSD data shows the average time spent on paid and unpaid work in a 24-hour period. The data is disaggregated by sex for each country, and was compiled and made publicly available as of August 2018.

The data set is not without its challenges. Each of the national surveys in the data set were produced by different organizations and different UN country offices. As a result, they did not always survey consistent target demographic groups. For example, in some cases, multiple surveys aimed at different age groups exist for the same country and year. Removing the ‘Age’ column makes it impossible to distinguish the surveys, leading to an issue of messy aggregations – averages of averages – or seemingly identical rows i.e. with no label differentiator.

The Viz5 team felt that this data was a perfect example of the difficulties that come from doing cross-organizational analyses, and is an endemic problem faced by UN data professionals, and other groups working to collect large amounts of data, across multiple countries and groups. The great thing about #MakeoverMonday is that it empowers users to come up with creative ways to work with challenging data, like that included in the ‘Age’ column of this data. The Viz5 team felt that instead of providing our own second-best solution, we’d rather let the #MakeoverMonday and Tableau communities be creative in their grappling with this problem. We’re so excited to see what they come up with!

See some early visualizations

Since sharing the data on Sunday we’ve seen some phenomenal submissions, and we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight a couple of the visualizations that have been put forward. Follow the links on these images to interact with the live visualizations!

Viz by Liam Spencer @wilhelmsbrick
Viz by Gordon Hack @Gordon_Hack
Viz by Priya Padham @p_padham

If you want to keep track of all the Viz5 visualizations, follow #Viz5 and #MakeoverMonday on Twitter. Also, join the Viz5 community, and follow project leads @TriMyData and @SethCochran. I’ll be continuing to tell the story of Viz5 here, so keep an eye out for our May data and theme, and join us as we work to visualize a more equal world!

Helen Davies, Chief of Staff, Operation Fistula

About Viz5

The ultimate goal of Viz5 is to create a space where data advocacy and insights meet impact. This work seeks to ignite a data advocacy effort with the power to not only raise awareness of extreme gender inequality, but also catalyze global action to end it.

Viz5 is led by Operation Fistula, with #MakeoverMonday and Tableau Foundation operating as critical partners. 

The visualizations that are produced during Viz5 will serve as advocacy tools, awareness-raising artifacts, and data-driven insight drivers for anyone working to end gender inequality.


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