29 Oct 2015

The thing about housework - the second shift

It’s not new; women and especially women feminists have been calling out for more than thirty years for the economic recognition of the second shift i.e. women coming home from a paid job to a second shift of unpaid work at home whether it was cleaning, cooking, ironing, caring for children, sick or old members of the family. Of course in some households the male partner helps out, and some jurisdictions such as Norway adopted a system where more paternal leaves were provided for the male partner in an attempt to divide care work more fairly, in the Netherlands there are more women working part-time than anywhere else in the world in an attempt to lighten the burden of paid and unpaid work that women shoulder.

But what about single mothers? They are the category of women who cannot benefit from the Norwegian system of allowing the father more time off, and they’re most probably not the category of women who can afford working a part time job.
The reason why house work has never really been perceived as real work is the lowliness of it; as soon as the kitchen is cleaned and tidied, as soon as clothes have been washed ironed and folded away, someone makes a sandwich, the stained school uniforms are thrown in the laundry basket and all needs to be done all over again. But what governments and economists fail to see is how time consuming, how physically exhausting and how indispensable house work is, there would be no tax payers if mothers did not rear and care for them.

The importance of recognizing house work and paying women for it, is not only for the benefit of women who hold paid day jobs, but for poor women in third world countries who are so desperate to feed their families, they leave their home countries, to work in foreign lands, taking care of other people’s children, cleaning other people’s toilets. If governments did reward those women for domestic work, they would be in their home countries, taking care of their own children, looking after their elderly, cleaning their own toilets and providing for themselves.