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A Woman's Work Is Never Done... But It Should Be

01/02/2016 8:27 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
Andrew Olney via Getty Images

"A man may work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done..."

Isn't this adage relevant even today? Did you know that women in India do 9.8 times as much unpaid/household work than men do? This is regardless of whether they are homemakers, stay-at-home mothers or if they work from or out of the home. Whichever club they subscribe to, women do the lion's share of the chores that need to be done on a daily basis.

Women who don't go OUT to work, of course, are dismissed as homemakers or housewives, with little thought spared for the huge quantum of work they do. Once a baby arrive they become known as stay-at-home mothers (SAHM), perceived to be cooler because "mothering" is a little more specific.

I can almost hear the sceptics (the voice is male). What's this hullabaloo about work I say? What do women do at home all day? What's in a word after all? And what does gender have to do with it all?

A woman has to do it all! An exhausting, endless list of activities. No wonder Indian women are believed to be the most stressed out in the world.

Everything, I say, because a woman has to do it all! The Full Monty, I am afraid, even though the tools change based on the geography. All the combinations of housework exist in a typical household today. From budgeting and managing finances to coordinating play dates and birthday parties; from cooking, cleaning and queuing up for water to going to Parent-Teacher Meetings; from taking the dog out for a walk to bathing the kid and making the daughter's plaits for school; from running a load to packing the school lunches, from grocery shopping to kin-keeping (sending birthday wishes, calling and enquiring after relatives, sending get well soon cards and flowers for an unwell aunt); from homework supervision and pruning the bushes to care for sick elders and children; from dropping and picking from music classes and washing clothes to folding, ironing, sorting, tidying up, de-cluttering. Phew! An exhausting, endless list of activities. No wonder women are always so busy and so tired. What's more, Indian women are believed to be the most stressed out in the world.

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Interestingly, while the SAHMs or homemakers work all day, they don't have a job. A job is what you do for a part of your day, work you get paid for and one where you are expendable even if your business card reads CEO. Housewives work for themselves (family), they don't get paid and they work all day. Usually because of a mix of "they want to and they have no choice."

The housewife, the homemaker, the SAHM, even the woman who goes out to work, all are in attendance because the man of the house has returned from work!

What happens to a woman who goes out to work? She works the now famous "second shift", not only before she leaves for work but also after she comes back home. However, when a man goes out to work, things are dramatically different. In India, this man transforms into an all-encompassing being to whom all at home must subjugate. The housewife, the homemaker, the SAHM, even the woman who goes out to work, all are in attendance because the man of the house has returned from work! He has the gendered luxury to de-stress, to go straight to the idiot box to "unwind", whereas the woman starts her unpaid second shift.

Maybe that is why some women find cooking therapeutic. Once the woman is in the kitchen she can breathe deeply, almost yogi like, count to ten (thanks to the self-help books on anger management) and cope with the question that's looming in front of her: "Why can't I put my feet up and catch some Homeland or Game of Thrones, despite returning home after a long day at work?

Whatever a woman's status, there is #NoAaramFromGharKaKaam! (No respite from housework). Household work continues to be ignored, unrecognised, unpaid and hers to do. And gender has everything to do with it. (If you have any doubt left, please google images of "household chores" and see whether a woman or man is doing them.)

According to McKinsey Global Institute's 2015 Report "Parity in Gender", the share of women engaged in unpaid work relative to men has a high correlation with female labour-force participation rates, i.e. the more time is spent by a woman on household work, the less are her chances of getting employed and paid and contributing to the economy (needless to say, also the betterment of the family).

Imagine what our GDP would look like, if the time and energy of 60 million Indian women were freed up and they started paid work?

In fact, it is fascinating to see the most progressive minded women, who stand up for every aspect of gender equality, not insist for an unequivocal division of household work. This could be so for myriad reasons, like our conditioning or our higher standards of cleanliness at home or simply a compromise to keep the peace of the house. This in turn reinforces the same stereotypes and societal beliefs outside the house, with the children, at school, at the workplace, in a meeting or a seminar, leading to a ripple effect. In addition it keeps women away from the workforce and unable to contribute to the economy.

Imagine what our GDP would look like, if the time and energy of 60 million Indian women were freed up, they were able to reboot themselves and they started paid work?

Besides, isn't a family a team? What happened to teamwork people? It is time to take stock of a woman's work that goes unsung and unrewarded, and is never done. It is time to take gender out of household chores.

Let us start the #GharKeKaamChallenge/>#HouseholdChoreChallenge:

1. Become conscious of the chores/tasks that being are done in our homes and by whom.

2. Let's gender swap these chores, for two weeks and evaluate the outcome.

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