Women's double burden: competitive worker and devoted housewife

By An Tu   May 10, 2023 | 04:00 pm PT
It's sad that many people still think that women who stay at home are inferior, or those that focus on their careers are selfish.

There is a common opinion that a woman should take care of the house, take care of children, and also work to contribute to the economy.

I disagree for two key reasons. The first is due to the inherent value of housework, and the second is gender inequality in the labor market.

A report by the International Labor Organization in Vietnam in 2019 showed that Vietnamese women spend more than twice as much time doing housework as men.

On average, women spend 20 hours a week cleaning the house, doing laundry, shopping, cooking and taking care of children, compared to 10 hours for men.

In addition, nearly 20% of men do not spend time on any housework at all. Of course, this painful disparity exists outside of Vietnam too.

According to the United Nations, women around the world spend twice as much time on unpaid household work and unpaid care work as men.

Financially, the value of these two jobs is estimated to contribute 49% to the GDP of an economy.

Even in offices, the work that women do often has a lower status and salary than men. Because of the dual responsibilities that they have to shoulder, women apparently cannot spend much time and energy on their own work.

Combined with persistent gender stereotypes and injustices even in our modern society, women generally do not receive the same opportunities for professional development as men.

For example, in Vietnam, the proportion of women holding decision-making positions (directors, managers, etc.) accounts for less than 25% of the total number of such jobs.

The pandemic further exacerbated inequalities in the labor market, as well as in the distribution of family care work.

A study by the U.S. Pew Research Centers shows that the pandemic has added more pressure on women than before, with more housework and especially childcare (because children didn’t go to school) being put on women.

In the United States in 2019, before the pandemic, mothers spent an average of 5.8 to 7.3 hours a day taking care of their children. This number for fathers was 4.3 to 4.7 hours a day. In 2020, during the peak of the pandemic, mothers spent 7.6 to 8.2 hours a day on such care and fathers 5.2 to 5.5 hours.

In 2021, when the epidemic was no longer at its peak, mothers spent an average of 7 hours a day on child care, compared with 4.4 hours a day for men. These rates did not change much between full-time working women and men.

In heterosexual relationships, women are automatically expected to spend more time on housework (which should be shared) than men. This disparity is higher in Vietnam and higher in families with children.

These figures should remind those who still have a strict, one-sided view of housewives, that they need to look at the general reality of gender inequality before making ill-informed judgments.

It is nonsensical to look at a tree planted in the desert and then blame it for not growing because of bad seeds, compared to a tree planted in a place where there is enough water, good soil and clean air.

The point is not to force a tree in a harsh environment to do the unthinkable but to think of a way to let as many trees grow in a healthy environment as possible.

There is no question that we should show more understanding of women's contributions and be much fairer to them.

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