The Sleepy Bus Ride To Work

Understanding how unpaid care work prevents women from thriving.

By Esther Aoko, Sexual and Reproductive Health Advocate

A Making Waves blog for International Women’s Day

Every time I would board a bus early in  the morning, I would look around and see women sleeping. At first, I just thought it was normal but then this pattern continued to show itself more. I got curious and decided to ask a woman who was seated next to me why she was sleeping. She said “I am so tired, I recently gave birth and after work I go home to take care of my baby, my husband and my other children. This often leaves me with little or no time to rest or even sleep. That is why I look forward to riding the bus in the morning because this allows me to get some rest. Also if I don’t sleep now, I will get to work tired and I will not be able to get anything done. “It was from her experience that I got a glimpse of how care work puts women at a disadvantage.

Women have so much unexplored potential, but they are often held back because of the burden that care work puts on them. Unpaid care work is not only about the time and energy that it takes from women, it takes away so much more including women’s peace of mind that is affected by the emotional weight brought about by this burden. Taking care of children, managing households, cooking meals, mending clothes, offering emotional support, procuring water and cleaning clothes often leaves women with no time to invest on their personal growth. As  they are constantly giving out services, they end up being drained and losing themselves amidst all the stress that this burden brings.

The total value of unpaid work is estimated to be between 10% and 39% of gross domestic product. It contributes more to the economy than sectors like manufacturing, commerce and transportation. The unpaid care work done by women contributes to the economy by producing important goods and services. Additionally in many instances, unpaid care work compensates for public service. For example, when women takes care of their sick families at home, then they won’t need to go to a hospital. Clearly, unpaid care work has very vast contributions to our society and it needs to be recognized as work.

Care work is the heartbeat of every society. It contributes to our wellbeing and is crucial for our social and economic empowerment. For us to free women from the burden of unpaid care work, we need to; recognize and compensate women for work done and reduce the amount of care work done by women by ensuring that this work is equally distributed among all. This will ensure that women have more time to fully participate in the social, political and economic aspects of life.

If you would like to share your perspectives on this issue, please add your comments below!

Written by: Esther Aoko, Sexual and Reproductive Health Advocate

Peer reviewed by: Alice Welbourn, Anne Mugo, Janet Tatenda Bhila, Luisa Orza

If you would like to reference this article, please use the following suggested citation:

Aoko, E. (2022) The Sleepy Bus Ride to Work: Understanding how unpaid care work prevents women from thriving. Making Waves. Available at:

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