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Saturday, June 12, 2021

Mind the Gap

Indian women shouldered a debilitating burden of unpaid household and care work 20 years ago — it’s no different now.

Updated: October 25, 2020 6:51:24 pm
Here's data to show that the world is built for and by menSocial norms continue to condition women and men to have differential time allocation priorities and possibilities.(Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

By Sunny Jose and Bheemeshwar Reddy A

The maiden time-use survey in India, carried out in six states in 1998-99, stated the obvious but ignored fact. We were terribly generous in confining women to primarily managing kitchens and providing unpaid care work. The proportion of men participating in, and the time spent on, unpaid domestic maintenance and care work was quite low. This revealed, inter alia, our deep allegiance to patriarchal norms, besides the burden and un-freedom women had to endure. Though this, in itself, may not be amazing, whether we have preserved it or knocked off will be interesting to see.

The latest time-use survey, carried out in all the states of India in 2019 by the National Statistical Office, comes after a gap of two decades. The 2019 time-use survey confirms the persistence of the gendered time-use patterns of the past even today. It informs that only about 26 per cent of men (six years and above) participate in either domestic maintenance or care work and a measly four per cent participate in both activities. The corresponding proportions for women are 81 per cent and 28 per cent. A closer look reveals disquieting facts. Only six per cent of men, as against 75 per cent of women, participate in food and meals management and preparation. While 13 per cent of men participate in childcare and instruction, the proportion is paltry in caring the dependent adults at home.

This huge gender gap also emerges in time spent by the participating men and women. Men spend, on average, 97 and 76 minutes, as against 299 and 134 minutes by women, in unpaid domestic and caregiving services for household members, respectively. Thus, over 80 per cent of women in India spend about five hours daily in unpaid domestic services for household members. Conversely, men spend longer time in employment related activities (459 minutes) than women (333 minutes). However, the gender gap in time spent is larger in domestic maintenance than employment related activities. Though time spent by men in domestic maintenance constitutes only 32 per cent of time spent by women, the time spent by women in employment goes up to 73 per cent of time spent by men. Interestingly, there is no perceptible gender gap in time allocation in other activities, including rest, personal care and socialisation. These broad patterns emerge in both rural and urban India.

Since education is likely to weaken men’s attachment to social norms, does education help increase men’s participation in unpaid domestic maintenance and care work? Do all social group exhibit the similar patterns? Surprisingly, neither the participation nor the average time spent on unpaid care and domestic activities increases substantially even if men’s education goes up. Also, the same pattern appears among men from all social groups in India. These broad patterns prevail in almost all the Indian states. The notable exceptions are Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Goa where around 50 per cent of men participate in either domestic maintenance or care work. With less than 20 per cent of men’s participation, Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh remain at the other end. However, average time spent by men in unpaid domestic services varies substantially across the states.

Why does lower proportion of men participate in, and spend lesser time on, domestic maintenance and care work? An oft-invoked explanation is that social norms continue to condition women and men to have differential time allocation priorities and possibilities. If so, is the low participation of men and the lesser time spent by them on unpaid domestic maintenance and care work essentially due to the “time poverty” imposed by their long hours of employment? Or, alternatively, is it because of their adherence to social norms?

A scrutiny of time allocation patterns of older men (above 60 years) is relevant here, as time squeeze due to employment is likely to be less intense among them. Only one-third of older men as against 78 per cent of older women participate in domestic maintenance work in rural India. They spend, on average, about 112 and 245 minutes, respectively, in these activities. This pattern also appears in urban India. The lack of significant increase in men’s participation and time spent on unpaid domestic and care activities despite the possible contraction in employment-induced time squeeze points to the likely influence of social norms. What’s more, the data reveals that we are schooling the younger generations (6-14 and 15-29 years) to normalise and practice such gendered patterns.

The 2019 time-use survey confirms that we continue to confine women to primarily shouldering a huge, debilitating burden of unpaid household maintenance and care work. Why do we conform to and perform the gendered time-use patterns of the past even now? Why is the educated, tech-savvy younger generation in harmony with the older generation in fostering the regressive gendered norms? It is important that we seriously take note of and deliberate on the peculiar tenacity of the archaic, gendered constructs and divisions even today and their deep but differential impacts on women and men.

Jose is RBI chair professor at Council for Social Development, Hyderabad. Reddy A is assistant professor at Department of Economics and Finance, Birla Institute of Technology & Science Pilani, Hyderabad campus. Views are personal.

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