Subarna Ghosh, a 47-year-old woman from Mumbai, was on a call with her colleagues. While at it, she was also washing dishes at home. The story sounds familiar; the pandemic and the lockdown thereafter has really put our multitasking ability to test, more than ever, and in the process has gradually taught us to juggle personal and professional commitments. But the journey has not been easy.
As people began working remotely amid the lockdown, irregular office timings and long work calls increased the burden on employees, but it impacted women more, according to a recent survey. That is because unlike being at office, women were now meeting professional deadlines in the midst of household chores and caregiving commitments.
Continuing an age-old tradition rooted in patriarchy, household work has majorly been the duty of women, even as they have stepped beyond the threshold to assume the role of breadwinner alongside men. Calling out this unequal distribution of household labour, Ghosh started a petition on change.org, addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, around mid-May, requesting him to motivate men to share the burden equally.
“Unequal distribution of unpaid household work has rendered the harshest blow to women across India during this lockdown. Yet, women’s care work continues to be invisible and no one wants to address this gross imbalance,” wrote the co-founder of ReRight Foundation, an NGO that works on women’s reproductive rights.
Talking about her personal challenges, Ghosh further wrote, “I live with my husband and two children in India’s urban heartland. And I feel exhausted bearing this unfair share of the workload. The fatigue from being overworked is palpable amongst women in most Indian homes. Some even bear the ‘double burden’ of having a paid job…Sign my petition asking Mr Modi to talk to Indian men about doing an equal share of care work within the household in his next speech.”
In a chat with indianexpress.com, Ghosh explained why she addressed the petition to PM Modi. “Around that time (when she started the petition), PM Modi had just spoken to the nation and asked people to light diyas and everyone did it, including men. Whatever be one’s political inclination, each and every person listens to him. He also spoke about sanitary napkins recently. So why can’t a leader of a country, who is such a big influencer, come and also tell men to participate in the housework? If the Prime Minister actually talks about this, to the world it will show a huge political commitment as well towards addressing issues related to gender inequality. And there is no harm in finding an ally in a male leader.”
Unequal distribution of household work has been a pervasive challenge, except the ongoing pandemic-led crisis has only exposed the bias. “It is such an everyday issue that it is very easy to overlook. But the unequal distribution of household work is actually a reflection of a larger reality of the kind of gender power dynamic in every family. And given the situation during the lockdown, I grabbed the opportunity to highlight the issue and bring it out in a way to stir a conversation around it,” the working mom said.
Over the past few months, social media has been abuzz with videos of men contributing to household chores, from dusting and cleaning to cooking. One could perhaps say that the pandemic has fuelled an awareness about dividing the household workload among men. And yet, a July 2020 Ipsos survey published by UN Women found that women across 18 countries were still doing “the bulk of work needed to keep households running”; women were four per cent more likely than men to say they “strongly agreed that their care load had increased during the pandemic”.
— విశ్వ నరుడు🇮🇳 (@WRITER_SAINIK) April 23, 2020
— OverSeasRights.Com (@Overseasrights) April 25, 2020
Ghosh agreed, adding that unpaid household work tends to be invisibilised more often. Besides, the excess burden on women impacts their overall wellbeing. “It also impacts relationships within the family. It is the foundation on which the whole family structure as we know it becomes a little weak. Until and unless gender roles are not so terribly divided, we will not be able to reach a position where things can get better for women. We cannot continue to park the responsibilities on to women arguing that biologically, they are the nurturers. As if women do not need looking after!” she said.
The petition has received nearly 80,000 signatures so far. “A lot of women from across the world have responded and told me about their day-to-day experiences. I specifically remember a Chinese woman, married to a European man and living in the UK, reaching out to me, saying that even though the petition pertains to India, the issue equally resonates with her deeply as she experiences this on a daily basis,” Ghosh recounted.
So what’s next? As of now, Ghosh is awaiting a response from the Prime Minister. “Petitions are actually an easy way for the common citizens to communicate with people in a position of power. When more people are talking about it, it gets more mileage. It is often difficult to call out these gendered practices especially when there are close ones involved. But this has been going on for generations. The petition is therefore an effort towards disrupting the system and comfort that people are used to in their homes,” she signed off.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines