Official producers of statistics recognize the need to measure all forms of work, as evidenced by the latest statistical standards adopted by the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (19 ICLS) in 2013. The new standards introduce a comprehensive framework to measure work and employment, recognizing all productive activities, paid and unpaid, as work; however, the definition of employment has been narrowed to include only work performed for pay or profit.

Why it matters

The new standards have significant implications for measuring women and girls’ participation in all forms of work and for assessing differences in their access to full and productive employment, particularly in low-income contexts.

For example, in surveys measuring employment, unpaid activities which women in developing countries disproportionately undertake to produce goods for own use—such as subsistence farming or fishing, fetching water or collecting firewood—are no longer considered part of employment.  If complementary data on such activities are not collected, this can lead to serious undercounting of women’s productive work and contributions to the economy.

Full and separate measurement of participation in unpaid, productive activities will pave the way for a more complete assessment of women’s contributions to the economy and to household livelihoods and well-being.

Partnering with Data2X

The Women’s Work & Employment partnership supports inter-agency collaboration, methodological work, and a series of pilot country studies to operationalize the 19 ICLS standards across several labor and agricultural survey modules, with a specific focus on ensuring that men’s and women’s work in subsistence agriculture is reliably counted. A summary of findings from the first phase of work (December 2014-2016) can be found here.

In the next phase of this work, the ILO and the World Bank will implement a joint survey in Sri Lanka. Findings from this study will be used to produce practical guidance on how to apply the new standards on employment consistently across labor force and other household surveys. The study will also shed light on how to monitor gains in women’s paid work across surveys.