Norms about care work, domestic work, and time use
Nomrs about whether, or in what circumstances, women should undertake paid work are deeply linked to norms about women’s responsibility for unpaid household work: cooking; cleaning; care of children, the elderly, and sick people; and care of household assets. In this section, we discuss changes and continuity in gender norms about unpaid care responsibilities, the contexts or factors that support greater flexibility in gender divisions of labour, and the impacts of care responsibilities on women’s economic opportunities.
Four GrOW-supported country studies—undertaken in India, Nepal, Rwanda, and Tanzania—exploring norms around women’s paid and unpaid work found that most household work was nomiatively a female responsibility and that, in fact, women did more than twice the amount of unpaid care work than men. Girls were socialised into this work from an early age (Chopra and Zambelli 2017). However, there was some evidence of a divergence between people’s private attitudes and actions, and what they perceived to be the cultural norm, particularly in Tanzania and Rwanda. For example, one male interviewee in Rwanda observed:
[According to the culture, women have to handle the home activities. However, that is about the culture, but to me I feel well when everyone gets involved in the doing care work at home. This indicates that everyone has something to contribute to the family.
(Rohwerder et al. 2017: 22)
Other men also said they felt it important to support their wives by completing some care tasks when they returned from work, although women in some focus groups indicated that this was rare (Rohwerder et al. 2017). Similarly, the Tanzania study found a disjuncture between the norms and values that men adhered to in public (for example, in a focus group discussion with other men) and their private attitudes. In focus group discussions, men agreed that “if you help your wife with [care] activities, she will think you’re under her control,” but in individual interviews they recounted undertaking a variety of unpaid care work activities (Zambelli et al. 2017: 28).
In some cases, men stepped-in to perform unpaid care work because their wives were away from home and they had no choice; in others, it was the recognition that “I can see that she is doing a lot for the family and I would not want her to be exhausted” (Zambelli et al. 2017: 29). Unusually, the Tanzania study found greater flexibility in the work children undertake as they get older. In most other contexts, norms about gender roles become more rigid during adolescence.
The study also found some sharing of household tasks in specific circumstances, such as during pregnancy, after childbirth, or when women were menstruating (in Nepal), as well as more task sharing among younger couples. Despite greater flexibility in the two African countries (Rwanda and Tanzania), men’s involvement in all four countries was generally framed as ‘helping’ women, rather than viewing these tasks as a shared responsibility (Chopra and Zambelli 2017; Rohwerder et al. 2017). As the study concluded:
|W|here women felt overburdened or unable to undertake tasks nonnatively framed as theirs, their first recourse was to daughters and older women, though in some interviews they expressed a desire for a more equal division of labour with their spouses.
(Chopra and Zamhelli 2017: 39)
While many women wished for more equal division of labour, they felt this was impossible in the context of poverty and need for men (and often women) to work long hours, or to migrate, to make ends meet (Chopra and Zambelli 2017; Ghosh et al. 2017). Social disapproval also dissuaded people from challenging norms about gender labour divisions. For example, a young woman in Nepal observed:
If my husband helps me with my work by washing the dishes, even my mother-in-law teases him for doing so. Also, the other people look down upon nre.... The people who want to help hesitate to do so due to the fear of being ridiculed by the village.
(Ghosh et al. 2017; 25)
Kamanzi et al.’s (2017) study from a different part of Tanzania found similar patterns of norm change and tensions surrounding it. The young women interviewed generally expressed egalitarian views about childcare and gender divisions of labour. However, both young men and women reported that the older men held reservations:
I think that there is no big problem with working mothers. Of course, older people like my father would not like to hear the story because they think women must be goalkeepers [sic] and therefore they should not work, (young woman)
I do not care what they think. I just care what I think that it is a very good thing that a mother works. There are so many ways one can take care of children, (young woman)
I know that some people think that such mothers are hopeless because they have left their families. For example, my father always complains about Mr X’s wife because she goes to work and conies back in the evening, (young man)
(cited in Kamanzi et al. 2017: 15)
Five studies in the GrOW portfolio explored the impact of gendered norms around care responsibilities for women on their economic opportunities; in all cases, they were significantly constraining. The study on young women’s transition to the labour market in six African countries (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) found that, in every country, the presence of young children in households reduced the likelihood of a young woman receiving a good education and thus obtaining a high quality job, irrespective of whether the children were her own or those of another female household member (McKay et al.
2018). This may reflect demands on young women and older girls to care for these children, although girls who have dropped out of school or live in places with few economic opportunities may also start families earlier (Mariara et al. 2018). Having children under six years of age—particularly if they are closely spaced—is negatively associated with women’s non-farm employment (Ahaibwe, Ssewanyana, and Kasirye 2018b).
GrOW-supported research from the Centre for Budget and Policy Studies (GBPS 2018) found that the need to care for children was the single most commonly reported reason for women not working outside the home in Karnataka, India. However, this did not imply that women were not involved in economic activity—the need to work in a family business was the second most commonly given reason. Similarly, the study of artisanal mining in Central and East Africa found that 33% of women recorded family obligations as a major factor reducing their work hours, compared with 14% of men (Buss et al. 2017b). These reduced hours limit their earnings and their ability to network and build livelihood connections. The expectation that a woman’s first duty is to her family and husband also tended to discourage married women from working in the mining sector—nearly 35% of women working in artisanal mining were divorced, separated, widowed, or never married, compared with only 23% of men. Norms about domestic responsibilities and mobility, as well as more limited access to transport, meant that women tended to sell minerals near the extraction zone where they received a lower price than men who were able to travel further afield.
This tension between paid work and care responsibilities is corroborated by GrOW research in northern Sri Lanka, where women—particularly those in female-headed households with little family support—mentioned that care work prevented or limited them from engaging in certain livelihood activities (Lakshman 2017). Safety concerns were paramount for single mothers with daughters. One respondent highlighted ambivalence toward women working outside the home, citing her sisters’ reluctance to take care of her children (Lakshman 2017: 22). As a result, 56% of women respondents in Sri Lanka engaged only in livelihood activities that could be conducted from home (Jeyaseker and Ganeda 2018).