Gender inequality in sharp focus with lockdown

SIDDHI JAIN

New Delhi: A harried mother hands over a fresh paratha to her son and by habit, goes on to clean his messy room, while on the phone with her married daughter, who has just quit her job to better handle her household responsibilities. These visuals are from a campaign film on the unequal distribution of domestic chores in Indian households, a stark social reality for most mothers.

“Most of the time, female members in the family have to shoulder the responsibility of caregiving, cooking and other household chores, despite other members present in the family. One of the reasons for this kind of practice is that men are often considered the breadwinners for the family and can be therefore excused from household chores,” Nayana Chowdhury, Director of Program at Breakthrough, told IANSlife.

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Domestic chores of cooking, cleaning and looking after the needs of family members, are often exclusively the domain of the females of the house, and this is particularly true of mothers. In 2020, a study by a washing powder brand even revealed that around 71 percent women in India sleep less than their husbands due to household chores, as they are usually up earlier and sleep later than others due to work at home.

“One of the primary drivers of psychological stress in married women who have professional careers, is the double burden at home and work. Traditionally, Indian families are sharply gendered, where caregiving, early education of children, and most child rearing activities are under the purview of women, in addition to domestic and kitchen chores,” said Simantini Ghosh, an assistant professor of Psychology at Ashoka University, Haryana.

According to OECD data, in 2019, Indian women spent 577 percent more time per day on household work than men. In the modern nuclear families where both parents are employed, the lockdown has brought this disparity in sharper focus.

“Women across the globe are speaking about the unpaid work they do in households, and how it takes a toll on their mental health in addition to work-related stress. Indian women have typically depended on their domestic helps and maids, to reduce their burden of domestic chores. During the lockdown, this help is also denied to women. As more and more companies shift work days online, balancing meetings, assignments, deliverables with cooking, cleaning, washing, and homeschooling children has become incredibly hard,” Ghosh, whose research is on gendered abuse, gender discrimination, complex trauma and mental health, told IANSlife.

“It was during the lockdown, we all realised how women feel pressured in handling responsibilities of office and homes. There were instances where women had to manage work from home and look after the needs of the families. It is important to share the responsibility of household chores among all the family members equally without gender considerations. It is your house, as much as it is that of other family members,” Chowdhury said.

Not just mentally and physically, too much work at home also causes financial strain for women, as their active participation in the workforce is seen as an option by their family members.

The solution? Men will have to share domestic work, childcare and eldercare duties with their partners.

“Many working couples in countries outside India manage this to a commendable extent without creating friction in the family. The mindset of Indian men needs a massive change. It is time to recognize that there is very little that is actually “male” or “female” work, if we do not make it so,” Ghosh signs off.

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