Young Urban Women: Exploring Interlinkages: Bodily Integrity, Economic Security and Equitable Distribution of Unpaid Care Work

ActionAid and its partners have, since 2013, been working to address the issues of bodily integrity and economic security among approximately 5800 young women in the age group of 15- 25 years in seven cities in Ghana, South Africa and India through the ‘Young Urban Women: Life Choices and Livelihoods’ programme. The programme is deliberate in its urban framing and targetingdue to the reality of rapid urbanisation in Africa and Asia, which is believed to have great potential for youth employment and better access to public services, but which often sets the stage for discrimination and exploitation, particularly among poor urban populations. Between May and August 2015, the programmecommissioned a research aimed at creating a better understanding about the linkages between young urban women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights and their economic rights – including their burden of unpaid care work and access to decent work. Through this research, the programme set out to break the trend of looking at economic livelihoods on one hand and sexual and reproductive health and rights on the other hand in isolation, failing to recognize how these intersect in women’s everyday lives. In addition, unpaid care work intersects with and greatly impacts both these areas and therefore needs to be included in creating a more holistic impact on the lives of young urban women. In the course of implementing the programme, it became clear that lack of sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the disproportionate burden of unpaid care work on young women greatly impacted their wellbeing, agency and access to decent work. Further, young women who were in paid employment did not see a notable change in their burden of unpaid care work.

A total of 96 young women in Accra, Johannesburg and Hyderabad took part in the research, which was designed as peer-to-peer in order to encourage them to tell their own stories while building their knowledge and skills around analysing their lives, voicing concern and proposing solutions. Across the research sites, the interlinkages between bodily integrity, economic security and unpaid care responsibilities were not linear, but rather multifaceted andcomplex.