Valuing mothers' contributions to the economy
“My mother/wife doesn’t work, she is just a housewife” - is a pretty common response to questions asked about the occupation of women who aren’t involved in work outside home, overlooking their contribution to the system. This is usually referred to as care works, due to the absence of monetary transaction.
From looking after and educating children to preparing food, cleaning, caring for elders and sick – whatever keeps the family afloat is the duty of mothers or women holistically. Tania Haque of the department of women and gender studies at Dhaka University put the value of women's work at Tk638 billion annually. A vast majority of women work 16 hours a day and at that rate they put in about 771.2 million hours a year. The output is worth between US$ 69.81 and US$ 91 billion. And if it were added to the national GDP, the size would have been double than what it is now. Solely spearheaded by millions of mothers, these unpaid care works remain undervalued and still equals to ‘doing nothing’ for the prevailing social norms.
Working moms suffer from an exacerbated situation as they have to juggle both hats – productive and reproductive – without any vacation and more importantly, recognition. Holidays are often considered a good time for men to do a little social mingling or just chill out at home and go on a momentary hibernation. But to the working women, these are the days when the dual burden gets real, especially when there is no helping hand which happens pretty often.
“I took time off from work too, but the difference being while you were sipping mocktails in Hua Hin, I was neck-deep in housework and painfully ‘bua-hin,’ says Minu “Bong Momma” Ahmed, a working mom living in Dhaka, describing a regular day in her life without a helping hand.
“Normally, my day starts at 6am. My daughter, Jellybean, has school, so she needs to wake up at 6:30am. Our natural alarm clock, my son, the infamous Butterbean, wakes up at 6-6:30am, on the dot, everyday. Then I go on to preparing breakfast and school lunch for Jellybean, while Butterbean goes to wake up his sister by jumping on her. Then get Jellybean for school, send her off with the husband, and feed Butterbean if he’s hungry. Then I get dressed for work and head off to work by 7:45am,” she goes on to say.
“After toiling at office the whole day, I usually take a motorbike ride back home and am ambushed by the kids as soon as I enter the door around 5:30-6pm. After a quick change of clothes, it’s mommy time until the kids are fed and in bed by 9pm. Then dinner and any other remaining chores, until I finally hit the sack. When the work pressure is too much, sometimes I need to bring work home and spend some hours into my sleep time to finish. And when I finally close my eyes, I feel a small body squirming next to me, and Butterbean either wants milk or has to pee.” added Minu.
According to a study titled “Incorporation of Women’s Economic Empowerment and Unpaid Care Work into regional policies: South Asia,” released in December 2017 by ActionAid Bangladesh, women in Bangladesh spend over six hours a day doing unpaid care work while their male counterparts spend just over an hour on such activities. On average, women spend 6.3 hours on unpaid care work each day, out of a total work time of 15.3 hours, which is 41.4 percent of their total work time. On the other hand, men spend a mere seven percent of their total work time on it.
“A mother is a person who, seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie,” wrote Tenneva Jordan, portraying what it takes to be a mother. The mother, in the ‘ideal’ mannerism of motherhood, is a person who makes the pie with her utmost concern and sheer love and still has to fill her hunger with a healthy dose of satisfaction and selflessness.
“It’s a lot of work, being a mom. There’s no monetary incentive, almost zero levels of appreciation 99% of the time, and it never seems to end. But when I look at my kids asleep at the end of the day, hold and kiss their faces, innocent from the chaos they unleash, it feels totally worth it,” said Minu.
Apart from the occasional hashtags on social media and mother’s day gifts, what do we really do to emancipate them from the burdens of being a mother? Nothing. This discriminating practice, on one hand, institutes time poverty, a new form of distress, while limiting them from practicing their agency on the other.
According to Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid Bangladesh, women will be able to earn more if men and women equally participated in household work.
“The patterns indicate that women have been contributing more to paid work than before but much of their effort remains unnoticed due to the gender-based pay scale.”
“We do not respect the work of the household and it is assumed that it is the work of women. If we really want to bring positive change in terms of gender equality at home, we should recognise women’s unpaid care work with relevant policies,” she added.
It is therefore imperative to value women's contribution to the economy to elevate their position in society and get them out of the discriminatory web, similarly providing a tangible recognition of their work can be a gesture of goodwill to our daughters, siblings, spouses or mothers, and in fact transcend the society beyond its prejudiced construction