Blogbox | Youth2020

The invaluable contribution of the ‘second shift’

By - 24.09.2020

Will the pandemic bring about change in the division of household tasks?

Home as a concept is often used synonymously with the family. The household is considered to be a pillar of societal organization, a safe and comfortable space for everybody. And that which occurs  within the walls of the house often tends to be ignored and dismissed as a private issue, as something that does not belong in public discourse.

The COVID-19 pandemic has engendered change all over the world, it placed us in a new situation, and, along with it, also highlighted many old problems. Among them, isolation as a preventative measure gave additional meaning of the concept of a household, with unexpected changes to the make-up of homes all around Kosovo and the world.

In 2019, the employment rate for men in Kosovo was 45.9%, whereas for women it was 13.7%. Following the closure of many businesses as a result of the pandemic, it is little wonder that the number of men who stay at home for longer periods of time has also increased. And with the shutdown of schools and kindergartens, children were also locked down in their homes for months on end.

Thus, many women were not home alone anymore and had more mouths that asked to be fed, and more clothes that needed to be washed.

When we talk about household chores, we talk about labor that is done every day at home in order to ensure the well-being of the people who live there. Work done at home, which usually includes cooking, cleaning and care-taking, is a responsibility that falls on women, and it is one of the most common ways in which inequality and gender discrimination manifests itself. So, it is precisely the household and task division between its members that is a deeply gendered issue that gives privilege to some, but oppresses others.

As we know from our day-to-day lives, these tasks are usually seen as the obligations of women and girls that are part of a household. It is almost always the mother, daughter-in-law or older sister who is expected to fulfill these duties, regardless of whether they are busy with paid, full-time jobs.

The fact that men’s work at home is still considered as mere “help” for their wives demonstrates the truth that the conceptual shift is very slight.

Living as a woman in today’s society entails a long list of ideals that have to be achieved. Although many of these ideals are to do with how women look on the outside and how they have to behave within society, some of them take on more concrete forms. One of these concrete “ideals” is an economic dichotomy that forces women to work outside of the house and simultaneously be the sole homemaker who deals with all household chores.

Sociologists Arlie Hochschild and Anne Machung use the term “Second Shift” to describe the responsibilities of looking after children and housework, which are seen as belonging to women, besides their paid work.

In many traditional marriages where both partners work outside the home, women’s paid labor is considered “simple” work in comparison to men. As such, the “first shift” of women’s work tends not to be appreciated, thus justifying their continuous responsibility for the “second shift,” that is homemaking. The fact that men’s work at home is still considered as mere “help” for their wives demonstrates the truth that the conceptual shift is very slight.

How much does housework cost?

The outdated idea that men “help” women when doing housework comes as a result of a long sexist tradition, but there is more to it. Capitalism naturally devalues work at home by virtue of it being unpaid, and the false notion that work at home is less valuable than work outside the home creates a social climate that precludes gender equality. Within all of this, people tend to forget that jobs like cleaning, service and cooking are paid when done at home by people outside the family or by various companies.

According to a 2018 report by the United Nations, it is estimated that women do 2.6 times more housework than men. But women are not compensated for this labor, and many national economies usually do not include it in the country’s gross domestic product.

Women spend 3 times as many hours as men completing household chores, which naturally contributes to fewer available hours to do paid work. This contribution made by women, in addition to not counting in the measurement of formal economic activity, is also taken for granted — without ever being suspected of being there. This commitment not only remains underappreciated, but it  also takes time away from  women, making it impossible for them to invest time in themselves.

In some cases, men began to do more housework and child care during isolation.

According to a survey conducted by the Riinvest Institute in 2017, it turns out that employed women in Kosovo spend an average of 7 hours and 28 minutes a day on paid work, and 2 additional hours and 57 minutes taking care of the family and performing unpaid household chores. Thus, on average, women spend 10 hours and 25 minutes working. Riinvest’s survey shows that women have an average salary of 387 euros per month, which means that they are paid an average of 2.15 euros per hour.

If unpaid work were compensated, based on the market value of time for women surveyed by Riinvest, then they would earn an additional income of 135 euros per month working from home, if the specific time spent working from home is calculated during working days; if calculated for each day of the month, they would earn an additional income of 193 euros per month.

Considering all of this, unpaid women’s labor is too valuable not to be included as a formal part of the economy. But it is also important to advance efforts toward equality in the division of labor within the home.

According to a questionnaire conducted by the SIT organization with 837 young people, it turns out that young people agree that the gender gap in household chores should not exist, and that the division of household chores between women and men would contribute to family harmony — 88.6% of respondents agreed that sharing household chores would create better harmony between family members.

During the time of isolation due to the pandemic, in some cases men began to do more housework and child care. Experts suggest that this could lead to a sustained change in gender norms. While the way partners share responsibilities to educate their children during the pandemic may tell us a little about the future of gender equality after the pandemic ends, as homeschooling is only temporary for most parents.

It is certainly too early to say for sure how the pandemic will change the balance in the long run, but a series of new studies show that while women continue to do the bulk of housework, men are doing more than they did before the pandemic. And that can lead to lasting change.

Feature image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.