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Women shoulder brunt of household work during Covid-19

Women are performing the majority of household duties, despite men and women both spending more time at home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Locals Nicole* and her husband both began working from home when restrictions came in.

Although the two were spending an equal amount of time at home, most of the household duties fell on Nicole.

“It evolved to a certain degree, but very much my husband was really hands off; he kind of just assumed that I would take care of it,” Nicole said.

She was also mostly responsible for caring for their four-year-old daughter. Her husband took her to the park for an hour in the morning and again in the evening, but Nicole spent about four hours extra every day to care for her.

“He is spending more time with her but … his contribution to the house is unpacking the dishwasher each day and that’s the extent of it,” she said.

Nicole normally takes Fridays off from her paid job, where she works as a manager. However, to make up the hours lost, this was no longer possible.

A recent study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) found that the pandemic had minimal impact on the way men and women shared childcare and housework responsibilities.

Life during COVID-19 surveyed more than 7,000 Australians over May and June and found that 52 per cent of those surveyed said mothers “always or usually” looked after the children, compared to 54 per cent before the pandemic.

When it came to housework, 41 per cent said the female partner “always or usually” does the housework, compared to 43 per cent before the pandemic.

AIFS director Anne Hollonds said these findings showed how strong those patterns of behaviour are at home.

“Those patterns that indicate that we see caring for the family, either in terms of caring for people or doing the housework, I call both of those things caring for the family, that both of those things are seen as women’s work,” she said.

Nicole believes her husband is “domestically blind” and said he will only help out around the house when asked to.

“If you say, ‘Hey, can you mop the floor’ he’ll totally mop the floor, but he won’t do it when you need him to do it necessarily, and he won’t do it the next time,” she said.

“It’s that whole mental load thing where you’re the manager of the household and you need to direct your staff to do what you need done.”

The impact of women taking on more unpaid care work in the home can be multipronged, according to Ms Hollonds.

“Women get very tired and, worse than that, some suffer anxiety and depression as a result of finding that juggling very difficult,” she said.

An Oxfam survey, which interviewed 6,385 women and men across five countries, showed similar findings but also found that women living in poverty or marginalised communities reported the biggest increase in unpaid care work.

“The reality is the coronavirus crisis is making existing inequalities much worse,” Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said in a media release.

“For example, 42 per cent of women surveyed in Nairobi’s informal settlements said they were unable to do their usual paid work because of increased care commitments.”

Ms Hollonds would like to encourage couples to sit down and talk about teamwork at home.

“Experiment with different ways of doing things, and there are no rules. For some couples, (the traditional way) may well be the best arrangement for a whole lot of reasons… but there might come a time when that needs to be reviewed.”

Nicole would like to see a change in the way men think about work and family life.

“I wish that men weren’t so single minded that the only thing that’s important is the job,” she said.

“By prioritising the job, you’re actually causing damage to your family. The most important thing in all this is keeping your family safe and happy.”

However, these entrenched gender patterns may take some time to change, according to Ms Hollonds.

“For men, the role of work is a very big part of their identity as men, less so their role at home, whereas it’s the reverse for women,” she said.

*Name has been changed

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