LIMA – One of the biggest hurdles women face when it comes to professional opportunities lies at home. We — husbands, fathers, sons and brothers — are largely responsible for the inequality that stems from our own behavior in the household. And we do this to the people we love!
Women and girls carry out three-quarters of the tasks needed for the everyday functioning of Latin American homes, according to data compiled by the United Nations. This can reach peaks as high as 86% as in Guatemala.
That, in turn, has consequences for women’s job opportunities. Partly because so much of their day is consumed by domestic work, women in Latin America are twice as likely as men to work part-time jobs. More than half of Latin America’s female labor force works in the informal sector, which often gives them the flexibility they need — but at a considerable cost.
Broadly speaking, when it comes to the search for gender equality in the region, we’ve made some significant progress over the last five decades. Nowadays, more Latin American women graduate from university than their male counterparts. Although not all countries have progressed equally, the gaps in labor participation and salary have been reduced. It is when it comes to the division of tasks at home that we’ve had alarmingly little change.
Paying bills, stocking up groceries and utensils, providing warm food, keeping the house clean, helping kids with school work, taking care of the elderly, it is a long and varied list of activities for a home to function normally.
In an ordinary week, unpaid domestic tasks add up to slightly more than two days of work. These two days will result in fewer opportunities for women to join outstanding professional teams, fewer promotion opportunities, lower salaries and less time to study.
During the pandemic, a UN Women survey showed that while the amount of domestic and unpaid care work increased, the unequal division of labor persisted, taking many women to a breaking point.
And the hindrance for women lies not only in the overflow of domestic work but also its unpredictability.
When a child must be taken to an emergency doctor’s appointment or the schoolteacher sets an appointment with parents or the elderly require special care when they fall ill, it is generally the woman who takes up these tasks. This constitutes a vicious cycle between household responsibilities and work flexibility that affects careers and jobs at all levels, from high-income executives to informal street vendors.
Break the cycle
It is necessary and urgent to better distribute the workload of unpaid domestic work.
The key in this challenge we face is culture — which is both good news and bad news. The good news is that culture changes; the bad news is that it does not change overnight. This, however, must not distract us from the need to work toward this goal.
There are arguments besides fairness that support the better distribution of household labor. Internationally, it has been found that in homes where men are involved in daily activities, children have more emotional stability, better academic performance and better health. Furthermore, in homes with a better balance in household labor, women have greater purchasing power, which results in a bigger investment in family needs such as food, clothing and housing. That is exactly the reason why most conditional cash transfer programs target women as recipients. Moreover, here is an infallible argument: Partners with a better understanding of the equal distribution of domestic work report having a better sexual life.
The lack of female representation in careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has an origin in the roles that are defined at a young age about what is expected of girls and boys. Without noticing, we establish at home a culture that normalizes differences between genders, even though they do not correspond to differences in kids’ abilities.
We have tried to find solutions to gender inequality in the workplace. We have placed the burden of this task upon governors and legislators, while ignoring the domestic role we play. One need not be an activist to change the world.
We can start building equality in the proximity of our homes, with our families, the people we love.
Ñopo is lead researcher at Group for the Analysis of Development (GRADE)
Tags: Domestic labor, Gender, Labor policy