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My wife doesn’t work

  • Published at 12:03 am April 17th, 2019
Men and women different pay scales
Her contributions are not reflected in her pay BIGSTOCK

It is time to recognize the value of all unpaid work -- done mostly by women

Some time back, I was reading somewhere that someone asked a gentleman what the latter did for a living. He said he was a service holder. In response to a second query on what his spouse did, the man in question replied: “My wife doesn’t work. She’s only a housewife.” 

But then, the man had to give credit to his wife, in response to a volley of the following inquiries: Who prepares meals for the family, who does the dishes, who takes kids to school, who does the laundry, and so goes an endless list of unpaid household chores.  

My family life is a living testimony of how a working woman had to sacrifice her teaching career in a village high school -- first to become my wife and relocate to a new urban setting, second to bear our daughter. Ever since, a formal job remained elusive to her. But the 24-hour role as a homemaker that my wife -- Safwana Khatun Chowdhury -- played in our family deserves something more than a simple thanks. 

A monetary valuation of all the unpaid works she does -- day in, day out -- can be a wonderful way of paying some tribute. In other words -- a proper recognition of what she does.

And it’s not about her only. There are millions of women out there in our society who are contributing big time in the economies of our families, of our country. Sadly, a large part of this goes unnoticed, unrecognized, and often we hear men saying: “My wife doesn’t work.” 

Three-fourths of household chores and unpaid care works that range from looking after the family’s food requirements to education to providing initial nursing and health care to taking care of all special needs of the elders and children in the family -- all are carried out by women and girls in the families. 

Studies show that women carry out 12 types of household chores as opposed to less than three types done by the males in the families.

And worse yet, if a 2015 BBS survey (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics) is anything to go by -- 80% of women in Bangladesh are repressed and physically assaulted in their own families.  

Women’s unequal share of unpaid care work has long been recognized by women’s rights advocates as a key dimension of gender inequality. It is now increasingly recognized in mainstream economic policy discussions as a constraint to both economic growth and women’s economic empowerment.

Yet, gender disparities in unpaid care work remain both stark and resistant to change. Though there has been significant growth in female labour force participation in recent decades, the gap between the women’s and men’s contribution to unpaid care remains too high in women’s disfavour. Unpaid care work remains a key constraint on women’s participation in activities outside the households.          

It’s not only in unpaid home works or care works where women’s roles remain unrecognized, their contributions largely remain obscured in many income-generating economic sectors too.

Take the farming sector, for instance.

Women constitute over 50% of the farming labour force in Bangladesh, much higher a participation rate compared to 30% in India and Pakistan. 

But as they belong to small and marginal farm households, they are often left out from getting benefits of government’s agricultural extension service. From sowing seeds to bringing the harvested paddy home, there are as many as 23 steps in rice farming, and women are directly involved in 17 of those steps. 

They are the ones who preserve seeds, do the threshing and winnowing, do the processing and cooking. But as they don’t have much of a direct market-linkage and little exposure to market, trade, cash and profits, the women’s role in the farm sector is also under-recognized.

They don’t often enjoy the trainings and extension services generously offered to their male counterparts.

There is a positive correlation between women’s getting recognition for all the unpaid care works they carry out, and the respect and dignity they earn in a given society.

As lots of their work is taken for granted and remain largely unrecognized, women remain vulnerable to household-level torture, mental repression, and often find themselves in the receiving end of disrespect. 

It’s about time we created a society where men will recognize the value of all the unpaid work mostly carried out by the women, where men will help reduce some of their (women’s) burden in care works and household chores, where a proper redistribution of works will be ensured so that we can expect women have a better representation in wider spheres of socio-economic activities. 

Reaz Ahmad is Executive Editor of the Dhaka Tribune.