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Saturday 26 May 2018
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Commentary

Women’s unequal burden

GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN

HOW TO explain the exhaustion a mother feels? As I try to keep up with Ziya’s various school projects, and all the items that have to be printed, collected, bought or recycled in addition to completing revision and homework, I wonder how other mothers keep up. I especially wonder how working mothers manage. Families are collective projects, with all having to pull their weight, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

For example, the International Labour Organisation’s report on Women at Work Trends 2016 shows that in 29 countries surveyed, women spent more time on household care than men. In many countries, except for the UK, Norway and Sweden, it was double or triple the time spent.

The Nielsen Global Home-Care Survey, which covers 61 countries, also found that women do the majority of cleaning. Men are increasingly putting in care and cleaning time as well as shopping and driving children to and from activities and school. However, for almost all regions surveyed, except for North America, the percentage of women doing the majority of household cleaning is higher than men doing the majority or it being shared when both those figures are added together.

Such women are also working for wages outside the home. Here, in the Caribbean, where women’s employment numbers are lower than men’s, those women may be working informally, in self-employment or part-time, hence their greater responsibility for the home.

Nonetheless, even when women are working full-time or are the breadwinners, they put more time to management and care of household members and to household cleaning anyway.

In Trinidad and Tobago, according to the 2011 Population and Housing Census, between 24 per cent and 45 per cent of households are female-headed. So, on average, two out of three households in the country are headed by men. It is likely that women are also in these households, and that responsibility for families is more greatly shared.

It is unlikely that in the households which are female-headed, which are about one-third of those in the country, fair share of care takes place. It is also unlikely that fair share of the costs of raising children also takes place.

Indeed, the caseload related to child maintenance, as mediated by the Family Court for example, points to the challenges of equal care and equal financial contribution for children, particularly among middle and lower-income families, who are not only more likely to end up in the court, but also more likely to experience economic insecurity.

This problem of women’s unequal burden won’t change quickly or dramatically. As Caribbean women of all classes continue to pursue higher education in numbers vastly exceeding men, they will increasingly become primary breadwinners, even in households where men are seen to be the head, for headship may be based on the status of manhood, not income contribution.

At this point, it is mainly in energy, manufacturing and construction sectors that men can provide higher incomes on lower levels of qualifications, but outside of those and illegal activities, we can expect lower-income and less well-educated men’s earnings to be less stable and less able to equally meet women’s over time.

It is also reasonable to expect that, at least in the short term of the next decade, many men will not take up the majority of housework, eldercare and childcare, even when they earn less. First, globally, this has been delegated to other women, especially domestic workers, aunts and grandmothers.

Second, even where time-use studies indicated the reverse, in a 2015 survey of eight countries from Brazil to Rwanda, between 36 per cent and 70 per cent of men reported a role “equal to” or “greater than” their partner in childcare. In other words, women’s unequal contribution remained invisible, uncounted and undervalued.

The picture of women working full-time, contributing more financially as well as putting in more hours of care, cleaning, cooking and management at home is the near future. It will affect women in married, common-law and visiting relationships, and those that are without partners.

This is one explanation for the exhaustion that mothers feel, and its toll on their emotions and health. If there are any women out there for whom this sounds familiar, know that, my sister, it’s not just you.

motheringworker@gmail.com

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