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Work From Home Along With Work ‘for’ Home

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

With the ongoing pandemic, despite it being a universal calamity, it has had an unequal and disadvantaged impact on women, with its effects on the society economically and socially. Gendered patterns and differences have been seen historically in earlier epidemics and crisis from HIV to Ebola, researchers have studied that men, women and non-binary populations experience these diseases and its situation very differently. There are studies available on how women were affected in other countries in the past but very little in our Indian context which is why it is difficult to fully understand the impact of COVID-19 on different genders, because gender-disaggregated data are not easily available. However, this is why we need research on such themes even to get policies implemented.

A pioneer feminist Simone de Beauvoir in her book, The Second Sex (Beauvoir, 1949) examines gender as a social, economic and cultural construct framing housework as a necessary condition to conform to the patriarchal norms of femininity. Likewise, this is being practiced and reinforced till date in our society. As we focus on one of the most affected or rather say neglected category is women, especially women doing the household chores. Although the demand for gender equity for work in domestic and public spheres isn’t a new concept, the pandemic along with worsening it also undervalued it as a problem by invisiblising it. Women who still managed to hold their jobs or women who are educating themselves in institutions, willingly or unwillingly had to start doing ‘double-shifts’ for from home and work ‘for’ home. Due to the Pandemic, the home has become ground zero and without the availability of domestic help, it is evident and has reminded us that the survival in life mostly axes on cooking, cleaning and caregiving/taking as much as it does on enough money to sustain the life.

Housework is the most commonly used term in these times and yet is undefined hence vaguely used in a set connotation. In 2020, in various WhatsApp groups, a category of jokes and forwards were being shared of how men also are doing some work to glorify the chores that women do daily and the other kind of forwards were that this lockdown was no different for ‘housewives’ because the used to stay indoors and did all the work. These forwards reinforce the gendered divisions of domestic work and the hierarchy within the family. Some women even take pride in it, because since years women have been accustomed directly or obliquely to map their self-worth and status to how well they perform their traditional and cultural ‘gendered’ roles. The house duties done by them are mostly classified as ‘unproductive’ labour and the ones not doing a job as ‘housewives. The very term ‘housewife’ connotes a woman who doesn’t work outside in a capitalist market, making all the domestic work invisible. However, paradoxically, any working woman in a heterosexual family is unconsciously compelled to perform the ‘second shift’ of house chores indirectly and inadvertently making them all a housewife. This housework is mostly not even a matter of choice for women but a patriarchal norm that women have to perform.

According to the research by OECD (Centre, 2014), women spend up to 352 minutes per day on domestic work, 577% more than men (52 minutes) according to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development data[i]. In a household setup, a woman wakes up early to do the chores and cook, helps the elderly, husband and children, and sleeps after every work is done shows how the working hours for a woman are longer. An interesting observation that can be seen in the media representation, in an advertisement of a Pain-relief gel