Anna Velas-Suarin

Paid or ‘unpaid’ work in the household: How our concepts may be worsening the gender inequity

I am a woman and hopefully feminist enough although I really avoid labeling for the most parts. Sometimes, our very own way of labeling and conceptualizing gets in the way of truly addressing gender inequity.

I trust change makers and activists will not consider this as a mere criticism (it is not) because they truly deserve accolades and appreciation for all the work that they have done and have been doing. We have truly come a long way and owe the gains and milestones from all of them, including the men who support us.

However, I believe some rethinking is also going to help. I have actually shared these thoughts in a forum, which I attended recently so for those who have attended it, this might sound a little familiar.

One of the presenters discussed a very important (which is based on the study that an NGO has undertaken recently). I will not dwell on the study itself because it deserves a more detailed post and I really like this one to be brief. The presentation tackled disparity in income between men and women and how men are not participating ‘enough’ in household chores. The tendency to think of women as “not contributing enough” in household income is at the center of these discourses.

Are women really not contributing enough financially? There is a need for rethinking.

For example, perhaps we need to veer away from the thinking of “house work” as “unpaid work”? Let’s remember, even if the man is the one who works in an office or factory, for example, he could not do the work “outside” if his wife does not cook his meals or take care of his laundry, right? Where will he eat?  Where will he get his clothes in order to go to work? Therefore, economically, home work is also paid work.

The amount of time spent by his wife to cook his meals and wash his clothes are the same amount of time that she could otherwise do outside to work (or maintain a business). This works both ways. If the roles are reversed (with the man as the homemaker), then we should also consider the work of the man at home as contributing economically to the “potluck.” Either way, there should be gender-based economic valuation–where we are genuinely acknowledging and accounting for the value of the work of the partner who is at home (whether man or woman).

Time is an asset, a valuable economic asset. If no one will do the laundry at home, then we go to a laundry shop–and that laundry service is definitely not going to be free.

Therefore, we need to do some “re-orientation” because the more we segregate paid and unpaid work, we also ultimately contribute to gender disparity and inequity. 

I think what we do and how we elevate the discourses are good and empowering, but also, it is also up to us to contribute to change in mindsets and that includes “breaking” the cycle of thinking as “me against others” mentality. We are also contributing to the divide (including gender divide), even if unconsciously and with the most noble of intents.

As we always say, the change really begins in each one of us. And that change begins with how we look at, define, and embody concepts and practices.


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