UNICEF data shows that girls, mostly between the ages of 5-14 spend about 550 million hours of their lives on household chores, which is said to be 160 more hours than boys of the same age group. The sad thing about all this is that in almost all societies, this is considered normal. UNICEF says that ‘these early gender disparities plant the seeds of inequality and ultimately influence how much women work and how little their efforts are valued.”
This does not just affect the physical health of these girls worldwide especially in poor countries, it also affects them psychologically and changes the way they view themselves. The emphasis on house chores makes girls limit their own potentials and view it as less important because society doesn’t make them believe that their dreams are important.
Growing up in Nigeria, especially northern Nigeria, I can testify that even though our parents place a lot of emphasis on education and empowerment, there is a value that is attached to house chores in girls that is so deeply seated, I don’t see it ending anytime soon. Which means that girls have the burden of doing well in school and also taking care of the house, while the boys usually have nothing but school to focus on. I know that there are countless times that I will come back exhausted but meet work I am expected to do at home while my brothers go to sleep or go outside to play football or do something with their free time. These jobs would have been way easier if it was divided among all of us, and I wouldn’t have wasted so much time doing house chores.
There are days that I will be too exhausted to read or even write for a competition I wanted to submit for and will end up missing the deadline. Being a woman in Nigeria is a lot like walking into a room full of people and saying, ‘I found a cure for cancer’, and people will turn and look at you and say ‘oh, okay. So, can you cook or when are you getting married?’
Laying too much emphasis on housework is dehumanizing to women. Years of learning despite the odds and character development is thrown out the window and the entire existence of women is reduced to how well they can cook or how well they can sweep. Imagine, achieving so much yet people reduce everything you are to your ability to cook a plate of rice.
Women go through the same obstacles with men in getting an education or getting a job, we write the same exams, go through the same interviews and do the same work in the same field but women are giving less time to prepare and less time to find hobbies. Women are expected to be good at everything and still find time for themselves in the same 24 hours given to men who have only their dreams or jobs to focus on.
A study in Spain published on ‘Spain’s National Statistics Institute (INE) shows that “women spend almost twice as much time toiling in unpaid work than their male partners – an average of 26.5 hours a week compared to just 14 hours for men.”
We live in a society where over half the violence against women has root in house chores, yet people think that this issue is not important enough to be discussed. We have seen people, mostly men on twitter bash women right’s activists and feminist for ‘talking about unimportant and insignificant things like cooking when they should be discussing other things, while women are being killed and abused because of ‘these insignificant things’.
Every time I ask people who seem to be getting angry about why they are getting upset about the fact that some women say they won’t cook or are having discussions around cooking, I have never received a reasonable reply, all they do is deflect or say there are other pressing issues. What can be more pressing than issues that affect women’s lives and future?
In 2017, the United Nation’s Survey shows that the top five reasons that Nigerian females justified domestic abuse are in relation to burning the food, going out without her husband’s permission, neglecting the kids, arguing with the husband and refusing to have sex with him. The three states with the highest level of tolerance in each category are:
- Burning the food: Katsina (52%), JIgawa (43%) and Benue (34%)
- Going out without husband’s permission: Katsina (40%), Benue (38%) and Jigawa (33%)
- Neglecting the children: Katsina (43%), Kogi (36%) and Jigawa (32%)
- Arguing with the husband: Katsina (34%), Yobe (41%) and Jigawa (32%)
- Refusing sex with husband: Katsina (33%), Jigawa (28%) and Kano (18.2%)
Domestication of women leads to a lot of problems because it comes from the belief that women in their entirety are created for one purpose and one purpose alone ‘the satisfaction of men‘, and this satisfaction should be at the expense of everything.
The discussion about cooking and housework is infamous among both men and women because both parties are afraid to lose something from that arrangement: Women, their ‘sense of self-worth ‘and men their ‘power and authority ‘
In a society that thinks adding too much salt in the soup is a ground for divorce or abuse, you can’t really blame women for trying so hard to hold on to these crappy relationships in order ‘to secure a husband‘ or ‘save their marriages.’ And I think that is the greatest tragedy of all.
When you make someone believe that their value lies in one thing for centuries and someone tries to make them see something else, they will fight with everything to protect it. Women who right from childhood have been raised and trained as housewives and to cater for men think that their biggest enemy is someone trying to tell them that they are worth so much more and can be so much more. And as for men, women do everything these days, we have female doctors, lawyers, soldiers etc. But one thing that remained constant over the years is gender roles, and men feel like women dropping that too will destroy the natural order of things and take their masculinity away from them. (Let’s ignore the fact that they don’t hunt or build houses from scratch anymore)
I have heard men say ‘if my wife will not cook for me, what is the point of marriage?’, and I always say men with that kind of mentality should not be allowed anywhere near marriage. The whole purpose of marriage is not to find someone who will cater to you or treat you like an overgrown baby. Men who never learnt to feed themselves and treat cooking as something beneath them thinks marriage is the solution to their problems. And that belief is inherently problematic.
There are men who although know how to cook, think that skill or knowledge should end when they get married. Cooking and doing household are essential parts of living and that burden should not be placed on women alone. Parents need to do better in the distribution of labour in the house. It makes no sense that in a house of seven boys, two girls are doing the work of five people, especially considering that it is work without pay.
It is so unfair to see that women do 9-5 jobs and are sometimes breadwinners or contribute to the upkeep of the house but are still saddled with the responsibility of cooking, cleaning and childcare. And it’s downright ridiculous to meet men that say, ‘they don’t want to hire house helps.’ Well, if you don’t want to hire a help, do the needful, it’s not that hard to understand.
I read an article on The Guardian US titled ‘WANT TO BE A MALE ALLY? START BY CLEANING THE HOUSE’ by Moira Donegan. He said ‘the stress and lack of leisure time that this causes not only diminishes women’s quality of life but also can have negative health effects-including risk of heart diseases, cancer, arthritis and diabetes. Feminist have been saying this for years; increasingly, empirical data backs them up.’
He went further to talk about how this knowledge hasn’t been able to fix this problem because of the resistance of men.’ The thing many people don’t want to acknowledge, and the thing stopping us from making progress towards housework equality is the resistance of men. Men remain unwilling to do their fair share of housework and childcare: they are oblivious, willfully ignorant, or pathologically indifferent to the stress and suffering of the women around them.’
He went further to say we can never achieve this until men develop a greater sense of responsibility towards the women in their lives. Men will remove a lot of extra stress from women if they just learnt to clean after themselves or help with childcare, of their (you wouldn’t believe this) actual children.
Its high time we stop calling childcare by fathers ‘babysitting ‘. Babysitting should be reserved for hired helps and relatives offering to take care of our kids from the goodness of their heart, not parents. There is nothing that makes me cringe more than seeing adults praising men for doing the barest minimum expected from a parent and terming it as ‘babysitting.’
This lack of empathy from the men in our lives who thinks that most of the work done around the house and the little things done to make their lives easier, just magically do themselves. For instance, once a woman made a thread on twitter about how her husband thought that their soap dispenser just never ran out of soap while she was the one doing the work of refilling it. Imagine, thinking that something always available to make your life easier just appeared on its own. This goes to show the extent to which the labour happening around men is invisible to them.
I know that there are men who do housework equally and there are those who even though they don’t do housework try as much as possible to take the stress away from their wives. Some hire helps and others try every possible means to see that their wives don’t work as hard as society expects them too or enforce redistribution of gendered labour among their kids. For instance, they order take outs or go out to eat when their wives seem exhausted or don’t feel like cooking. But these men, are the little exception to the general rule and it is even worse when they think to do the dishes, is them doing their wives favour. No, you are just doing your part as a human being.
This tragic method of raising men to believe that their sole purpose in life is to be served and catered for needs to end. No one is created to be your personal slave and especially not someone you married and promised to treat as your better half.
In Nigeria, it is disgusting to see mothers cleaning after their adult sons, and I think this problem is A worldwide problem, especially in some Asian and Arab communities. Imagine, having three grown-up sons and shouldering the responsibility of 15 people on your shoulders as a mother just because you don’t want your child to be stressed or because you were raised to believe men exist to be served by women. Most women who raise these overgrown babies usually overburden and are too hard on their daughters mostly because they believe that is their ultimate purpose.
Sure, these women deserve to be blamed for these unfair systems, but it’s hard to do things differently considering that’s the only life they know. Which leads me back to the issue of social conditioning, which created these systems and who benefit most from it? It’s definitely not women; we are the ones that suffer it. We are the ones that are protesting against it and a lot of women are resisting only because men are resisting, and many women are afraid to lose their proximity to men. There is also a fear of losing relevance, imagine someone being raised their entire lives to believe their lives; the entirety of it exists to serve men? Do you think telling them otherwise will make them be grateful to you? Some women never had a chance to build their lives and the question ‘what then do I have to offer ‘arises.
It’s easy for men to dismiss this article and similar ones like they have been doing for a long time because they are not the ones who face the consequences of all these. It reminds me of this story among the Hausa story collection ‘Magana Jari Ce ‘by Ahaji Abubakar Imam, about a nagging husband who thinks housework was insignificant and easy compared to what he does, and one day his wife tired of his nagging requested that they exchange their chores for a day, since he claims that she does nothing all day and the outcome was amazing, because he couldn’t handle ‘the anything’ she does at home.
And I think that sometimes, that’s the kind of thing we need, to put guys in our shoes and watch how they cope even though we know they are going to fail miserably anyway. When women tell you that this is happening to them, perhaps instead of talking over us and telling us what you think, you should learn to listen. Housework looks easy and insignificant only because you don’t do it. I hope these traditions and gender roles change soon, but nothing can change on its own, redistribute gendered labour in your house today.
Hopefully, in a few years to come ‘how do you handle your professional job and house care? Or ‘how does your husband cope?’ wouldn’t be the ultimate questions in interviewing successful women. And ‘women who have it all ‘won’t be a thing. Amen!