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The Breakthrough Voice 8th May, 2020

What The Lockdown Means For Women And Unpaid Housework.

India ranked 122nd on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index and women’s labour force participation percentage was 23.6 – it is an incredibly sad indictment of our society.

2020 hasn’t exactly been a great year with the pandemic that has made the whole world come to a grinding halt. But, we seem to overlook domestic life when we make a statement like that. Several countries like India are under strict lockdowns for the greater good i.e. containment of the virus. The lockdown has already been extended by our Prime Minister and there’s a possibility of another extension. As the lockdown keeps getting extended, so does the burden of household work on women. And that’s exactly what we need to talk about.

India already ranks dismally low in gender equality when it comes to household work (among several other indices), and it is one of the countries where gender disparity is the sharpest. As of 2018, Indian women spent an average of 5 hours 51 minutes in unpaid housework, compared to the lamentable 1 hour 19 minutes that men contribute. In the same year, India also ranked 122nd on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index and women’s labour force participation percentage was 23.6. It is an incredibly sad indictment of our society.

In the patriarchal society that we’re a part of, taking care of domestic work that includes but isn’t limited to cleaning, cooking and taking care of the children – is traditionally a woman’s job. In more households than not, men do not partake in any household chores. The reason for the same is simply rooted in the fact that earlier, men used to be the bread-earners in a family and women were the child-bearers.

According to an NFHS study, 52 percent of women and 42 percent of men believed that a husband is justified in beating his wife.

Now with entire families at home, including several men without any work, the amount of work for women has significantly increased. Even though men are increasingly more involved in housework, the distribution of this work is determined by vague but sticky norms of gender, which need to be dismantled if we hope to move forward from this. No matter what, women constantly have to carry a ‘mental load’ that men do not.

Women who don’t work outside their homes or have a salary could at least get some time off for themselves before the lockdown but with everyone at home, with their varied demands, women can’t even afford that time. Working women who are working from home are probably the worst hit, as many of them now have to deal with an infinite amount of work, part of which was earlier taken care of by house helps. 

The additional amount of housework, sadly, isn’t the only thing that has increased during the lockdown. The cases of domestic violence have also witnessed a significant spike and that’s extremely worrisome. Locked up with their abusers, women have been paying the price for the lockdown in the most horrid way. The frustration that accompanies idleness is dangerous in more ways than one.

As of 2018, Indian women spent an average of 5 hours 51 minutes in unpaid housework, compared to the lamentable 1 hour 19 minutes that men contribute.

Men who often drowned their worries in intoxicants, are now dumping them on their wives in the form of violence. The increase in domestic violence is common globally but each country’s response to the same isn’t. Italy on one hand, has launched an app that enables domestic violence survivors to seek help without making a phone call. But, India’s response to the same has been rather inadequate. Considering how, according to an NFHS study, 52 percent of women and 42 percent of men believed that a husband is justified in beating his wife – this response isn’t exactly shocking. 

The statistics are extremely disheartening and the condition doesn’t seem to be getting any better for women anytime soon. The fact that even during a global pandemic that doesn’t discriminate – women being more vulnerable shows us why gender inequality needs to be eradicated in every sphere of life. But, there’s still a silver lining to it, the fact that we can actually help as individuals to reduce this burden. It does take effort but one can simply start by taking up housework and helping out at home more.

We often overlook the effort women put in, so it’s a step in the right direction if we just start by doing our own work and also be grateful for everything that the women in our lives do. It is essential that we recognise our privilege and make sure that we call out male privilege (even if it’s happening in our own homes.) Lastly, make sure you report any and all instances of domestic violence if you witness anything – through the means of these helplines.

Every voice counts, especially the ones that are raised in our own homes.

Also Read: The Household Stereotypes That Surround Women And Their Work


Featured image used for representative purpose only. Image source: Pichincha Communications

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