People across the country are highlighting the strides women have made — and the challenges they still face — in making as much as men this week in honor of Equal Pay Day. But there's one hidden gap in wages and workload that doesn't get as much attention — and it impacts women and girls worldwide. Across the globe, women spend about 4.5 hours a day on unpaid labor, such as child care and household chores. For men, that figure drops in half. That's according to data cited by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which identified the issue of time poverty as a central focus in an annual letter released by its wealthy benefactors. In poor countries, the unpaid labor gap grows. Women in India, for example, spend an estimated six hours a day on unpaid labor. Men there spend just an hour on such chores. The expectations affect a woman's ability to work outside the home. "She doesn’t even get out of the house in that situation. She is trapped in that home," Melinda Gates told Refinery29 during a round table interview earlier this year. "So she doesn’t even get to go to the market, or participate in a job." While the time poverty gap is worse in the developing world, it's a problem here in the United States, too. “We have this hidden assumption, we assume that women are going to do all this work at home, all these chores, and so our economy is built on the backs of women, assuming they’re going to do this work," Gates said. "And we need to start rebalancing that."
So, how do we close the gap? Innovations that reduce the overall workload, such as bringing running water or washing machines to remote villages, can help. So can strong policies surrounding paid family leave and other work-related laws. But Gates also believes the change needs to start in the home — both through conversations about expectations, and modeling gender-balance in the household in public. In her letter, Gates describes a couple who set an example for an entire village after the husband began helping his wife carry water back to their home so she could focus on nursing and raising their young son. And in her own life, she recalls striking a deal with her husband years ago about who would drive their young daughter to school. When the other mothers saw that the Microsoft CEO was taking on that responsibility some days, they approached their own husbands about sharing the school drop-off load. Soon, seeing husbands outside the school on busy mornings became common. Gates encourages young women to keep time poverty top of mind as they start to think about forming their own families. “Really look at what’s going on in your own household," she said. "And if you’re not married or coupled yet or have a partner, think about what you expect from him or her when you form a marriage." And she hopes to see young women around the world speak up on this issue and demand change. “Use your voice. Make sure that we get a policy change in the United States," she said. "Look at issues and raise your voice and help connect with women in the developing world."