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Whither Social Justice And Decent Work For Women?

(Photo Supplied)

"As we celebrate the Labour Day let us celebrate the women of the world, because it is the women who are holding this world together..." so said Betty Ogwaro, Member of Parliament and former Agriculture Minister of South Sudan, while speaking at a special session of Gender Equality Talks, focussing on "invisible labour at home: the unpaid care work." Women shoulder the hardest of labour (paid and unpaid, visible and invisible) but seldom get recognition, rights, and justice.

International Labour Day is observed on May 1 every year, to recognise the contributions of workers, advocate for their rights, and promote a fairer and more sustainable future of work for all. This year, the focus is on “Social Justice and Decent Work for All”.

Every day is an unpaid Labour Day for most women

But where is this social justice for women? Every day is an unpaid labour day for a vast majority of them. As per current estimates, over 75% of the world’s total unpaid care work is done by women. Unpaid care work refers ‘to all unpaid services provided within a household for its members, including routine housework, child care, care of the elderly and other household members’.

Gender disparities in unpaid care work are observed globally, with women spending two to ten times more hours than men on unpaid caregiving and domestic work on physically strenuous and emotionally exhausting unpaid household chores like cooking, cleaning, child rearing, caring for family members, etc.

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Citing the plight of rural women, Betty says that as agriculture is the mainstay in South Sudan, the day to day life of rural women revolves around farming. "They do all the work- till the land, plant the seeds, weed and harvest the crop, store it. But once it becomes a 'product', it is the husband, and not the woman, who controls it. If the produce is sold the money belongs to the man and not to her." Also if they want to expand their agricultural activities, women cannot borrow money from the bank because they do not own any property -neither land nor house- in their name to use as collateral.

The principle of "one who tills the land, owns the land" is far from truth for most of women farmers.

However, be it the rural women or the urban women, regardless of the hours of the day women put into them, these strenuous and unpaid activities are often dismissed as a set of mundane daily chores which they are expected to perform by virtue of being a woman- daughter, wife, mother, or a female relative. Deep rooted patriarchal societies have always ignored women working in households and taken their vital, yet unpaid and invisible labour at home for granted.

Value of invisible work done by women is USD 10.8 Trillion

One estimate, as per an analysis done by Oxfam, puts the "true economic value of this invisible work" at USD 10.8 trillion,. In other words, if all women aged 15 and over around the world received even minimum wages for every hour of their unpaid labor, they would contribute about $10.8 trillion to the global economy annually.

A study done in India, corroborates the fact that a greater proportion of women's time is devoted to fulfilling domestic responsibilities, irrespective of their employment status. So, for women in employment, this often results in a ‘second shift’. Add to this the hours of emotional labour that goes into holding families together and putting up with patriarchal constructs of what women should do or not do.

Recently, an Indian politician mentioned in one of his election speeches about how women remain unpaid labourers as they do myriad household chores, but never get paid for it.

Our male dominated society has always ignored women working in households and taken them for granted. We need more men (including our leaders) to deliberate seriously on this issue, for women’s unpaid domestic labour to be acknowledged, redistributed and rewarded.

The root cause of gender inequality is patriarchy, and one manifestation of it is in the form of harmful gender norms and prejudices that are socially accepted and wrongly normalize and justify gender inequality.

Women are expected to be meek, submissive, docile and ‘good’ mothers and wives. Men are expected to be bold, aggressive, breadwinners, and ‘primary decision-makers’ and not engage in the so called feminine activities like childrearing or housework.

Idolising the ‘homemaker’ and ’motherhood’ role of women, gives a social sanction to thrusting the majority of burden of unpaid household and other care work on them, while giving an escape to men from child-rearing and household chores, and undue ‘power’ to hold women to account. Gender inequality fosters unpaid care work and also sets the underlying tone for violence against women and girls.

Women’s education and career takes a backseat while men get a social license to prioritise their education, career and not share domestic work and child rearing. Moreover, with no control over money matters and property/ land rights, women become more vulnerable, even as men gain authority and control over them.

A patriarchal society is an unfair society. It takes for granted that certain tasks within the household- like domestic upkeep, cooking, cleaning and childcare - are to be performed only by women. This gendered division of labour leaves women with little time to engage in paid work, making them further invisible. It also deprives girls and women of equal opportunities for education, work force participation, as well as leisure activities. .

According to a policy brief by United Nations ESCAP the gendered division of unpaid care work determines the quantity and quality of women’s paid employment and is one of the main reasons why women are outside the labour force. In Asia and the Pacific, around 400 million women belonging to the working age population stay out of the labour force and cite unpaid care responsibilities as one of the main reasons for staying out of the labour market.

Financial dependence and inadequate income are key factors contributing to women’s vulnerability to domestic violence too. The partner who holds control over resources is more likely to make decisions on spending, and feel entitled to control and dominate the other.

Women applying for high profile jobs are often asked ‘if they have any plans for marriage’, or ‘if they have children’ and ‘how they will manage office and childcare/ housework’.

Has any man been asked these questions?

The employers fear that a female employee may not be able to manage her office duties well because of her dual responsibility (of managing work as well as household chores). This assumption is based on the socially accepted norm that male employees do not have to manage or take part in any household chores.

It is high time to think differently and put a stop to the exploitation of our women force, whether they live in the cities or in the villages; whether they are part of the paid labour force or are engaged in doing unpaid and invisible domestic chores. Women are not to be treated like machines, but like human beings. On this Labour Day, let us salute them and show our appreciation - not just by words but also by our deeds.

Shobha Shukla – CNS (Citizen News Service)

(Shobha Shukla is the award-winning founding Managing Editor and Executive Director of CNS (Citizen News Service) and is a feminist, health and development justice advocate. She is a former senior Physics faculty of prestigious Loreto Convent College and current Coordinator of Asia Pacific Regional Media Alliance for Health and Development (APCAT Media) and Global AMR Media Alliance (GAMA). Follow her on Twitter @shobha1shukla or read her writings here

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