Gender, Time Use, and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa

Gender, Time Use, and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa

Gender, Time Use, and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa

Gender, Time Use, and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa


This title examines the links between gender, time use, and poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa. It contributes to a broader definition of poverty to include 'time poverty', and to a broader definition of work to include household work. The papers present a conceptual framework linking both market and household work, review some of the available literature and surveys on time use in Africa, and use tools and approaches drawn from analysis of consumption-based poverty to develop the concept of a time poverty line and to examine linkages between time poverty, consumption poverty and other dimensions of development in Africa such as education and child labor.


Gender, Time Use, and Poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa sheds light on a critical dimension of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa: time poverty. Although the concept of time poverty has been used in the development literature, it is not always clear what is meant by time poverty, how it can be measured, what impact it has on other areas, and what actions are most effective in addressing it. This volume tackles these questions by exploring the concept of time poverty, reviewing existing studies on time use in Africa, developing tools and approaches for analyzing time use and time poverty, and assessing the impact of time use and time poverty on other development indicators. The insights provided in the various papers included in this volume show that a better understanding of time poverty is required to inform poverty diagnostics, national poverty reduction strategies, and the design and implementation of development interventions.

As argued by the editors of the volume in their introduction, the lack of data on time use and the omission of the household economy from conventional development planning mean that the picture of the development process is incomplete and our understanding of the labor supply of households is insufficiënt—much of what we are (or should be) concerned with occurs in an invisible realm. There is therefore a tendency to make misleading assumptions about labor availability and labor mobility. Overlooking the differences in men’s and women’s contributions to “household time overhead” can lead to inappropriate policies which have the unintended effect of raising women’s labor burdens while sometimes lowering those of men. Furthermore, as a community of policymakers and development practitioners, we often do not invest in (or prioritize) what is not visible: so if the household economy is not visible to policymakers and planners, they are unlikely to prioritize investment in it. This means that we do not recognize the tradeoffs or positive links among different tasks and activities, and, by extension, do not focus on reducing or minimizing the tradeoffs and on building on the positive linkages.

The papers in this volume outline a challenging agenda for Africa. For example, seasonality in rural work and the combination of underemployment and labor shortages within a given population at different times of the year call for appropriately designed policy responses and programs. The issue of care for sufferers of HIV/AIDS needs to be analyzed further and integrated into the response to the pandemic. The wider question of care, how care work is captured, how it interacts with other domestic and other work, also needs more attention in both time use surveys and in policy responses. Finally, infrastructure investments, already recognized as a priority in the World Bank’s Africa Action Plan, need to be directed in part toward meeting the requirements of household production and the household economy, and helping women to reduce their time burdens. Acting on this agenda will help governments in prioritizing public actions aimed at accelerating progress toward the targets laid out in the Millennium Development Goals.

SudhirShetty Sector Director, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Africa Region, World Bank

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