A newly released McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) report documents how unpaid work carried out disproportionately by women causes and reinforces inequality, while also stymying economic productivity. The report, "The Power of Parity: How Equality for Women Can Drive $12 Trillion in Global Growth," outlines that much of women’s unpaid work hours are spent on fuel collection and cooking. To address entrenched gender inequality around the world, particularly among vulnerable, resource-poor communities, the main causes of unpaid work—including inefficient cooking practices and reliance on biomass for cooking fuel—must be addressed.

The report explores the economic potential available if the global gender gap were to be closed. The findings show that if women and men fully participate in the labor market, as much as $28 trillion, or 26 percent, could be added to the global annual GDP in 2025.

In the process of measuring against 15 gender equality indicators, MGI found that unpaid work represented one of the greatest areas of inequality between men and women, and therefore, remains one the most significant contributors to global gender inequality and one of the most significant barriers to economic growth.

Seventy-five percent of the world’s total unpaid work is undertaken by women. These responsibilities include child care, caring for the elderly, water collection, cleaning, and a myriad of cooking-related responsibilities, such as fuel collection, food and fuel preparation, and cooking. Particularly in the context of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, which urge for the reduction of unpaid work under Goal 5 on gender equality, the international community must not only work to more equally distribute unpaid work between women and men, but also reduce the total amount of unpaid work. To do this, the report calls for action via technology and infrastructure to provide access to essential services, such as household energy.

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves’ (Alliance) efforts to strengthen and scale the market for clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels are key to reducing the amount of unpaid work that remains almost exclusively a woman’s responsibility. Women and children, most often girls, spend many hours gathering fuel – up to 5 hours per day – or spend a significant portion of household income to purchase fuel. In many cases, displaced and refugee women walk for hours to find firewood, which increases the risk of gender based violence, dehydration, and physical injuries. When households have access to more efficient technologies and fuels, the unpaid work burden decreases, freeing up time to pursue economic, educational, family, and community opportunities.

The Alliance works not only to reduce unpaid work for women, but also to ensure that women are fully integrated into the clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels value chain, from designing products to awareness raising and distribution.

MGI’s findings align with the “UN Women’s 2014 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development: Gender Equality and Sustainable Development Report,” which identifies investment in clean cooking as a key domain with particularly strong potential to transform the lives of women and girls. It calls for expanding access to clean and efficient cookstoves and fuels because they can reduce unpaid work burdens, which directly enhance gender equality.

As the MGI report shows, addressing unpaid work is necessary for accelerating gender equality in the workforce and the economy. Achieving success will require action across the multiple sectors, including energy and infrastructure. Scaling proven approaches that have shown real results, like that of the Alliance, will be imperative to enhancing gender equality and catalyzing greater, more sustainable economic growth.