The burden of unpaid household work and caregiving has always fallen on women. Societal progress in gender equality still hasn’t really been able to seep into the confines of the house and domestic contexts.
In 2018, according to an International Labour Organization report, on average, women in urban parts of India spend 312 minutes a day on unpaid care work, in comparison to the 29 minutes spent by men. In rural India, the numbers were 291 minutes for women as against 32 minutes for men.
This disparity was brought to the forefront during the lockdown imposed in March, when people were confined to their homes without domestic helpers. The gender gap in doing labour-intensive household work is so significant, that women have even started petitions requesting the country’s leaders to address Indian men and ask them to share the chores.
However, A Comparison Of Time Devoted By Men To Housework In December And April Shows A Positive Shift
According to data released for the months of December 2019 and April 2020 by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), men did more housework during the first month of lockdown in April, than they had before.
An Economics professor at Ashoka University, Ashwini Deshpande, compared this data and found that while women continue to do most of the work, the number of hours spent on chores saw a rise for men.
The increase in the time spent engaged in housework was more for men than for women, since the baseline for men was much lower.
“This meant that the gender gap in average hours spent on domestic work decreased in the first month of the lockdown, nationally as well as across most states,” she analyses.
Prof. Deshpande told BBC that on average, while men devoted one extra hour to housework than before, women spent 0.6 hours less on housework than before. Compared to 1.5 hours in December, men were spending 2.5 hours on housework in April. Women devoted 4.6 hours to housework in December, which dropped to 4 hours in April.
Reports show that over 10.4 crore men lost their jobs in April. Prof. Deshpande believes that the rise in time devoted by men to housework is primarily driven by these recently unemployed men.
She says that the survey findings still hold great significance, especially because the CMIE data is based on interviews conducted with the same set of 43,600 men and women, both pre and post the lockdown. This allows an accurate comparison of the findings.
However, she says that we are in too early a stage, and that data from subsequent months will have to be studied for an accurate understanding of whether the changes will be permanent, and if they are a sign of us inching further towards the closure of the gender gap in housework.
“We won’t know until September when the next set of CMIE data will be available. We can only hope this trend persists,” she says.
The Change Is Small, But We Must Optimise The Fact That It Is Underway
The rise in time devoted by men to housework, and fall in that of women, is undoubtedly a small figure. However, for the women involved in the domestic situation, men moving away from patriarchal ideals of gendered distribution of labour and contributing to care work, is a positive step in the right direction.
This doesn’t mean that we become complacent with this change.
There is a need for continued progress towards greater parity in taking up domestic workload, especially in households where the husband and wife are on equal footing when it comes to professional workload.
The data we have at hand is evidence that a shift has been initiated. We hope that an analysis of the CMIE data released in September suggests that the shift is truly underway, and shows even more advancement towards leveling domestic gender divides India.
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