Saving labour and time

How sharing technology, community services and knowledge can lessen the burden of unpaid care work

When women and their families are stuck completing the same daily activities, again and again, their work is never done. The water and firewood must be fetched today, tomorrow and the day after that…

With no spare time to invest in more productive farming, more efficient ways of cooking, or paid work so that they can afford a cooking stove or water tank, time poverty traps people in economic poverty.

In this module we look at some examples from around the POWER project universe, of how saving time has allowed women and their familities to transform their lives.

Learning aims

Completing this module will give you an understanding of:

  • Types of labour-saving technology
  • The importance of childcare support
  • The impact of switching to more productive sustainable agriculture techniques.


Members of the Rural Women development link, Uganda. Photo: ActionAid

Labour-saving technology

Water tanks

“We used to fetch water from Mukungwa river” says Cyzia Didas, a farmer living in Rwanda. “It was very far from my house. But now I have water at home it enables me to redistribute home care works with my wife. While my wife is at the market selling goods, I can wash clothes, dishes and I can even cook.”

“Before receiving water we used to live a hard life with many complications and diseases due to unclean water.”

Fetching water ate into the family’s time, and it also brought with it the risk of disease. Now Cyiza’s family has more time, they also have clean water, and a more equal distribution of care work.

With free time on her hands, Cyiza’s wife can now run her own business.

“My wife is now engaged in a small business and I am happy that we can work together for our family economic development,” he says. “I want to thank our supporters because they helped my family to live a dignified life.”

It’s not just about saving time, it’s about unlocking a whole new way of life. 

Energy-efficient stoves

Francine, a farmer from Gisagara district, Rwanda, says that after receiving an energy-saving cooking stove, her life changed for the better. Cooking has become easier than ever, as the stove has slashed the amount of firewood and time she needs to cook a meal.

“If every woman had this kind of cooking stove, their lives would be changed for good. Even their husbands would be able to cook because it is quick and easy to use.”

Childcare support

Elizabeth’s story

From middle of the night wake-ups to feeding, washing and dressing them, looking after children is hard work. When women are expected to manage all of the childcare, plus countless other areas of work, there’s simply no time left over. That means no time or energy left over for improving the family crops, producing more crops to sell at the market, or taking on paid work.

“Before receiving an early childhood development (ECD) centre, we lived a hard life where we had to stay with children at home and we wouldn’t get time to participate in income generating activities” says Elizabeth, who lives in Rwanda.

“With an ECD centre, our children are well taken care of, we no longer have to stay at home with them. Now we have time to do activities for our development.”

Ismatara’s story

Like Elizabeth in Rwanda, Ismatara in Bangladesh found childcare made her life difficult.

Ismatara was just 18 when she was married off. She had just finished high school, and had big dreams for her future. She wanted to study, work and be financially independent.

Marriage made that very difficult, but she kept going to classes in Political Science at a local college.

One year after her marriage, Ismatara gave birth to a baby girl. Taking care of her baby all day, she struggled to find the time to continue with her studies.

Ismatara’s husband works in Dhaka city. She stays with her parents, who are too busy to help her care for her child. Desperate to continue with her studies, Ismatara arranged to meet with community leader, Lucky Begum.

That’s when Lucky recommended the daycare centre. Armed with new knowledge, Ismatara went to the daycare centre and enrolled her daughter there.

“I feel very relaxed after leaving my child in the centre. She’s safe in there. The teacher is taking proper care of my baby, and I have started to study. I’m also working a part-time job,” says Ismatara.

“Before leaving her at the centre I could manage one day per week to go to the college. After finding this facility, I can go at least three days.’”

Ismatara used to work a part time job in her father’s tailoring shop. But she could not do the work regularly due to her unpaid care work obligations. But now she can spend a good amount of time on doing the tailoring, she is earning 2000-2500 BDT. per month (23 -30 USD) She’s spending the money on her studies and taking care of her children. She is very pleased with the change in her life.

“Before, I felt uneasy asking for money from my husband or father. It is a dishonour. Now I earn my daily expenses on my own. I can even contribute to the family income as well.”

Ismatara is studying in her third year at college, working in the tailoring shop, and helping to support her family.

She takes decisions on her own, and contributes to family decisions too. At the daycare centre, she joins monthly meetings and helps the committee to identify areas for improvement.

Ismatara is planning to get a job in government, or with an NGO. Her family and husband support her.

“I want to prove that if women get the opportunity and enjoy their rights, women can fulfil their aims. I am happy I could leave my child in the daycare centre, supported by POWER project. It was my dream to start study again and it is possibly thanks to the daycare centre. Every mother should get such a facility.”

Moly’s story

In this video we see how Moly’s life has transformed since she and her husband started sharing equal responsibility for unpaid care work.

Sustainable agriculture

Marie’s story

Marie Goreth lives in Agasharu village, Rwanda. She is 38-years-old and married with four children.

For Marie Goreth, the tasks of fetching firewood and water, farming her limited land, and poor agricultural production, were a great burden in her life.

Marie Goreth could spend hours each day searching for firewood, which meant less time for important tasks like trying to improve the fertility of her land.

Each day, she was spending almost an hour and a half fetching water, which adds up to 42 hours per week or 504 hours per year.

She was losing time, energy and happiness to this task, as it often caused conflict between her and her husband.

Searching for firewood took her almost an hour every day, or 28 hours per week, or 336 hours per year. The firewood she found was small and made it challenging to cook or heat her home. She could see no way to improve her situation.

That’s when her neighbour invited her to join the local women’s group, Ihoreremunyarwandakazi. At the women’s group, women learn their rights, reduce the time they spend on unpaid care work, gain time for productive activities and participate in decision making positions in the community.

After joining the group, she was trained on family law, women’s rights, starting income-generating activities, sustainable agriculture techniques and many others. But she could barely practice any of them because she was spending most of her time on water and firewood collection.

Marie Goreth went from rearing zero chickens to over 700.

In 2016, ActionAid’s POWER project provided her with a water tank and energy-saving stove. Her life changed overnight.

She no longer needed to spend hours each day collecting firewood or water. The water tank gives her water for her household, as well as water to irrigate her kitchen garden. Now she can grow enough vegetables not only to feed her family, but to sell and earn extra money.

Using the time she saved from firewood and water collection, Marie Goreth started engaging in small businesses using her savings. Her businesses kept on growing. Then she had the idea to rear chickens. She went from rearing zero chickens, to 700.

By selling 110 chicks to other business-owners, Marie Goreth earned 660,000 Frws($727.021). Every day, she collects at least 150 eggs which she can sell for 80 RFW($0.09) each, or 12,000 RFW($13.2186) per day.

With increased time and money, Marie Goreth can finally put into practice all her sustainable agriculture learnings.

POWER supported her by giving her a pig, so she now has access to manure to fertilise the soil. POWER also gave her multipurpose tree seedlings, including calliandra and leucena. Pruning these trees provides a source of nitrogen for her soil, as well as fodder for her animals, and a way to help reduce soil erosion.

After learning about women’s rights, Marie Goreth started to claim the freedom and opportunity she deserved all along. For example, she started looking for a driving licence, which she recently received.

“Having trained on women’s rights and understanding the relationship between unpaid care work and women’s poverty, as we spend too much time in unpaid work, I discussed with my husband by showing him the way our family is affected by unpaid care work.

We decided together what we could do to address this challenge. He started to take his time and seriously help me in home care works and step by step we have increased our income.”

Dig deeper

Read the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s report, Fostering the uptake of labour-saving technologies: How to develop effective strategies to benefit rural women.

Learning action

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Saving labour and time

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