Imagine a person getting up early in the morning to make breakfast, do the laundry, and get their kids ready for online classes before going to work. Then the person buys essentials at the supermarket, comes home, prepares dinner, cleans up, and spends some time with the kids before going to bed. If the person you imagined was a woman, then your imagination reflects the everyday life of many Filipino women taking on the brunt of care work.
Care work refers to all the unpaid tasks and responsibilities done at home, such as cleaning, laundry, meal preparation, and looking after children and the elderly, and so on. Traditionally, care work is seen as “women’s work” in many cultures, including the Philippines.
The Weight of Care Work at Home
Nowadays, younger couples are not bound by old belief systems when it comes to gender roles in care work. Atty. Third Bagro and his wife Dr. Tina Langit-Bagro, the millennial duo behind the Instagram account @mrsdomesticated, show how sharing care work equally is the way to go. They both currently work full-time and have three young children.
“Even before the pandemic alam na namin yung importance ng gawaing bahay and sharing gawaing bahay between the couple,” explained Atty. Third AKA Mr. Domesticated. When it comes to care work, Atty. Third considers looking after his children as his care work of choice. “Favorite time ko yun with them.” But he also cooks, cleans the house and the kitchen, collects water if needed, and enjoys gardening with Doc Tina.
Atty. Third is the first one at home to wake up, at 7:00 AM or earlier, and he prepares breakfast. He also wakes up his two older children for school. He also helps his children throughout the day with schoolwork when he isn’t working. In the evening, he plays with the kids and washes the dishes.
“Usually pag kailangan nang matulog, si Tina na yun with the kids ulit. Ako na yung magaayos ng kusina kase gusto ko bago matulog maayos siya… minsan nakakapagdilig din ako sa gabi. Yun mga halaman sa loob ng bahay… titignan ko kung ok lang sila, tapos magdi-diffuse pa ako ng oils sa mga halaman!”
Dr. Tina said. “With the pandemic, mas na-open yun time ni Third, and other fathers also, to do more for their homes and their families.”
Recognizing and Redistributing Unpaid Care Work
Oxfam Pilipinas, Investing in Women and together with other partner organizations are at the forefront of raising awareness of the value of unpaid care work and helping communities discover ways to create an environment that supports equal opportunities for men and women by highlighting positive deviant practices. Positive deviance, in a nutshell, is one way by which a specific set of community members are able to address common problems faced by a larger community in a manner that works and is efficient for the concerns faced by everyone in the community.
In the context of the pandemic, data gathered by Oxfam, a leading advocate on the discourse of unpaid care work both globally and in the Philippines, shows that men in the families spend more time on care work compared to pre-pandemic times. However, women and girls in the household still spend more time doing care work than the men and boys.
According to Lot Felizco, Country Director of Oxfam Pilipinas, “Early this year, we conducted a National Household Care Survey, and the data showed that women spent 13 hours per day on care responsibilities, including the supervision of dependents and secondary activities. Meanwhile, men spent only 8 hours per day on care work.”
Felizco added, “In terms of care work as primary activity, women did this for 6.5 hours a day — three times more than the average time spent by men doing the same.”
The increase in handling care work during this season — when we deal with COVID-19 surges, quarantine restrictions, distance learning, pay cuts or loss work, and more stressors — could worsen already stressful situations in households.
Why is the issue of recognizing and redistributing unpaid care work timely and relevant? There are many benefits to distributing care work more equally in families and among partners. For one, women can spend more time on paid work, developing their careers, and income-generating activities. When women are able to participate more in the workplace, they can feel empowered and fulfilled. In addition, the overall increase in the presence and contributions of women in the workplace can positively impact the economy as we continue to revitalize it, post-pandemic.
Women can also have more time for rest, self-care, and other recreational activities. These things are important, not just for women but for their partners, families, and communities in general. That’s because when women’s overall wellness — physical, mental, emotional, and financial — improves, the wellness of the people around them can also increase.
That is why now, more than ever, it is necessary to rethink our traditional practices of leaving the bulk of care work to women.
“If we think about it and look at it from another point of view, care work is real work. It requires effort and skills to properly complete a task, it takes time to finish care work. It has value,” said Leah Payud, Resilience Portfolio Manager of Oxfam Pilipinas. “Some families would afford helpers to do the domestic and care work in their homes because they believe that their time can be used for gainful activities, such as engaging in business or other professional work that will benefit their family. There is a real value in performing care work, and it should be recognized and rewarded,” added Payud.
Unpaid care work is not a concern limited to the home; it affects how individuals can participate and perform in the formal economy. Helping reduce the hours — and redistribute the amount — of care work also requires involvement among various sectors and communities, especially for employed women. Some recommendations from the Philippine Commission on Women includes: strengthening collaborations with relevant government agencies to prioritize the valuation of care work; providing opportunities for women and men to participate in the labor force while performing care work; addressing the root causes of inequality through education; and providing platforms for men and boys to expand their roles in family and community-building.
The fact is clear: care work should be equally shared in the home. Most people are familiar with the idea of love languages, two of which are acts of service and quality time. By sharing and performing acts of service equally, partners can enjoy more quality time together — demonstrating both love languages to each other.
When we work together to create loving and supportive homes where families share their responsibilities equally, every household member can feel the positive impact this brings. More families can impact their respective communities, leading to more people sharing and redistributing care work equally, resulting in benefits for men and women alike.
“We believe that families, especially the couples, are not just life partners but are also partners in running the household and tackling care work responsibility at home. Apart from just easing the workload, they are also teaching valuable lessons to the children at home,” concludes Payud.
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