We look at men carrying babies and washing bottles with admiration and gratitude while women doing these same things are barely noticed, because this is their role. When men cook in their homes, it is cause for celebration and an avalanche of status updates but women spend hours over boiling pots and pans, and it is their responsibility. They do not get as much as a nod of approval. Where both the man and woman leave home at 6:00am and pay for rent and lighting, where is the line of responsibility drawn?
All through primary and secondary education in Social Studies and Christian Religious Education, we were taught about the family as the smallest and most vital administrative unit of the country. We explored gender roles from the cultural and religious contexts and developed an appreciation for the different contribution each family member brought to the table. Basing on the standard nuclear family, the husband/father was the head of the family charged with provision of all needs, security and leadership, the mother took on the role of nurturing the children and performing household chores whereas the children obeyed, provided labour to complement the household chores and brought joy to their parents. As the world evolved, the gender roles dynamic did not change much. The head of the family went off early in the morning to work, the woman went to the garden, cooked the food, cleaned the house, washed the clothes, nurtured the children and as the trends changed when the man returned from work and volunteered himself for some household chores, he was profusely thanked for his contribution and forever admired for his chivalry.
Over the years, trends have changed and roles have been mixed up across the board with women performing roles that were traditionally men’s and vice versa. However, the bulk of care work remains shouldered by women who culturally, socially and religiously were “made for this work.”
The concept of unpaid care work, as defined by Oxfam is the group of activities that serves people in their well-being. This includes direct care of people, housework and unpaid community work which are all critical to societal development. Research has shown that heavy domestic work can negatively affect employment and earnings, education, mobility, health and wellbeing, participation in development initiatives and leisure time, especially for women and girls who do the bulk of this work. Caring for children, firewood/charcoal collection, washing clothes and water collection were considered the most time and labour intensive activities by women.
So what do we do? We start by recognising care work, expressing gratitude for those who do it and most importantly sharing it. Diane Elson in her framework called for Recognition, Reduction and Redistribution of care work through policy and technological advancement. Because there isn’t a proper legal instrument stipulating care work and definitive division of roles in Uganda, it is important that the society itself takes on the role of sharing this work to reduce the burden on women. Evidence shows that women undertake the most demanding care roles and spend much more time on activities such as taking care of children, washing clothes, cleaning the house, cooking food and emotional support than men, which has for years been expected of them because they are known to have more patience and love for it. But with the ever-changing world, where women have taken on more challenging tasks outside the home they are often left to do both, bring home the food and cook it, which is unfair.
Societal beliefs further emphasise the unfair distribution of care work, where women are expected to do most of the domestic work and men seen to be performing chores are ridiculed and belittled as bewitched and weak both by men and women. Further, women may not willingly accept support for this work because of these ingrained beliefs. While women are increasingly taking on the roles that were religiously, culturally and socially restricted for men like building the home, buying the food, paying the school fees, doing the largest share of unpaid care work places a greater burden on them.
Building more awareness to tackle norms and beliefs that encourage the disproportionate distribution of work against women is a step in the right direction. Encouraging families to share house work and communities to adjust their views of gender roles is a start. Through radio programmes and community outreaches, increase in recognition of care work and domestic work and its importance in human development can be achieved.