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Sharing the care work load

In the last few months, as we have focused on “flattening the curve,” our regular lives have been put on pause by quarantine measures. Our homes have become our workspaces, classrooms, restaurants, entertainment venues, 24 hours a day.

More than half of the women Oxfam surveyed across five countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, Kenya, Canada, and the Philippines — say that they are spending more time on care work since the pandemic. This includes more time preparing meals, washing and cleaning up, caring for young children and relatives. Specific to the Philippines, our data show that women are generally spending up to five more hours a day on care work.

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With more men at home during the pandemic, either in work-from-home arrangements or home because they are unable to work or have lost their jobs, we are also seeing that the amount of time men spend on care work is increasing. Close to two-thirds of men Oxfam surveyed in the Philippines (66 percent) this year said their unpaid care and domestic workload had risen during the pandemic.

The data drawn from urban and poor communities in the Philippines tell us that men who now spend considerably less time working are now filling their time with cleaning the house, washing clothes, fetching water, and preparing meals. But are men doing more care work because of the interruption of their customary schedules brought about by containment measures? Or are we truly seeing a shift away from care work being seen as women’s work and toward a more equitable distribution of household tasks?

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At any rate, women continue to work more, work harder, and work longer hours. The additional hours of care work brought on by this pandemic are taking a toll. Close to half of the women we surveyed across five countries, including the Philippines, reported more anxiety, depression, lack of rest and sleep, and physical illness because of increased unpaid care work caused by the pandemic. Even before COVID-19, women’s health was already impacted by their care work—two-thirds of women in the Philippines had experienced an injury, illness, disability, or other harm from their care work.

We, the authors, are no different. As parents of two growing children, with leadership roles in our organization, and like many other mothers working from home, we have to juggle our responsibilities, and the expectations and demands of our jobs, while caring for our families, keeping our homes clean and disinfected, and home-schooling our children. The hours in the day may be the same, but expectations around what we do in those hours have intensified.

We are now seeing what a world that does not value care work looks like.

It looks like tired, overworked, anxious, depressed, and physically ill women.

Governments have a clear role to play in building more equal feminist economies that support men and women caregivers through paid sick, family, and medical leave from work. Governments must invest in public services like education, childcare facilities, and transportation infrastructure. We have seen successes on this front—eight municipalities in Visayas and Mindanao have enacted landmark laws that commit the use of gender and development budgets specifically for care-related services, like barangay day care centers, market roads, and community laundry areas.

As the world starts to open up, societies must recognize the critical role that unpaid care work plays in keeping our families, communities, and economies functioning and healthy.

This pandemic could be the start of creating a new normal around sharing care work.

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Jeanette Dulawan is the gender justice advisor, and Leah Payud is the women’s economic empowerment lead of Oxfam Pilipinas. Oxfam is an international confederation of 20 humanitarian and development organizations working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries.

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TAGS: care work, Commentary, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, flattening the curve, Jeanette Dulawan, Leah Payud
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