It is impossible to talk about women’s economic empowerment or gender equality in the workplace without also talking about how responsibilities are shared at home. Investing in Women’s survey of urban millennials in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Indonesia found that most women, regardless of their employment status, take on the bulk of household chores.
If working toward women’s economic empowerment is more than just creating professional, economic and social opportunities for women, but also about eliminating barriers for women to access those opportunities, then the conversation must include how the weight of domestic responsibilities, particularly child and elderly care, falls by default on women’s shoulders.
But sharing of domestic responsibilities benefits not only women; it also benefits men, families and society.
High expectations of men
Gender biases and stereotypes are just as difficult for men to live up to. Media and advertising often portray men as masculine, tough, and aggressive. Deeply held beliefs that men are not as capable of raising or nurturing children limit men to the workplace and keep women at home. IW’s data suggest that in South East Asia, men are perceived to be best at household maintenance, and women best at most other household tasks and caring for children.
The gap might be rooted in how boys and girls are raised.1 Do we not pass these beliefs on to children when we assign plastic tool sets or toy cars to boys dolls and cooking sets to girls? A variety of data also shows that girls spend more time on household chores than boys do. These suggest that to move closer to a 50-50 split of household work, we need to make it acceptable—and even desirable—for women, men, girls and boys, to be who they are, and to choose home or work, or both.
Men can be caregivers, too
An encouraging result from IW’s survey is that urban millennials believe men are participating in unpaid care work. The State of the World’s Fathers 2017 report takes this further by saying that men want to be involved at home. Hands-on care work allows men to share the joys of child-rearing, improve their physical and mental health, and build meaningful relationships.2
How can we help men, children and families access more of these benefits?
Highlighting the benefits of shared-role households is a step in the right direction. We also need to create an enabling and supportive environment that changes the narratives for men from childhood to employment, in the same manner that women’s economic roles should be normalized throughout their life course. This effort includes eliminating the stigma for young boys and men (1) of performing domestic tasks traditionally assigned to women, and (2) of taking parental leave from work to spend more time with their loved ones.
The #KitaMulaiSekarang or “Let’s start now” campaign by IW partners Yayasan Pulih (Pulih Foundation) and Aliansi Laki-Laki Baru (New Male Alliance) is doing this in Indonesia. Through social media and events such as university roadshows, the movement engages with young men as potential gender equality champions. The initiative also highlights how men can build strong bonds with their children by spending more time at home.
In the Philippines, the #inFAIRness campaign, a partnership between IW and a consortium consisting of Samahan ng mga Pilipina para sa Reporma at Kaunlaran, Inc. (Spark! Philippines) and marketing solutions firm Mr Click, sustains a similar conversation by spreading gender-positive messages on public transportation and seeking to eliminate gender bias in advertising through gender awareness workshops for marketers.
Unpaid care work needs to be more evenly distributed. The evidence is clear that household work-sharing is key for families and societies to thrive. Gender-equal workplaces are staffed by women and men from gender-equal homes. Only when they share responsibilities at home can both women and men have equal access to economic opportunities. Let’s start the conversation on workplace gender equality by building homes that are free from restrictive gender norms.
1 Claire Caine Miller, A ‘Generationally Perpetuated’ Pattern: Daughters Do More Chores, The New York Times, August 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/08/upshot/chores-girls-research-social-science.html
2 Brian Heilman, Ruti Levtov, Nikki van der Gaag, Alexa Hassink, and Gary Barker, State of the World’s Fathers: Time for Action, June 2017, https://sowf.men-care.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/PRO17004_REPORT-Post-print-June9-WEB-2.pdf