The Commune: The Invisible Work of Care

Dear Friends,

A few years ago I was working in a job that required going to districts with a high incidence of child harm to work with local communities and build safe spaces for children. I loved the work and the transformations we’d see. Over the course of a few months, girls would hold themselves up straighter, start making eye contact, and talk to their families about staying in school—small, incremental changes and daily negotiations. Part of my role was to tell impact stories, and so I’d walk with young girls as they’d go to fill buckets of water at the hand pump, or talk to them about school or what made them feel safe and unsafe as a pile of dishes were washed or younger children were tended to. There was no time to waste. The demands of the household never allowed for it. With many parents working as daily wage workers, household responsibilities fell to the girls in the home. In cases where a child’s mother was at home, these tasks reduced. In either instance, the burden ultimately fell to the women and girls of the household. 

Over the past few weeks, I was reading about women’s unpaid work and its contribution to the economy (3.1 percent of the GDP, in case you’re wondering). Work that goes largely unrecognised because it takes place within the boundaries of a home. I was thinking too, as Lockdown 4.0 comes to an end, how the lives of women across space, place and class mirror some aspects of each other. Of having to shoulder the burden of the household, of being the Person-In-Charge, and mockingly referred to as the ‘Home CEO’. Because even as some men are ‘helping out’ and ‘pitching in’ with chores, the onus of running the household remains on women. The pandemic has made existing fault lines of class and gender more visible, but we’re a long way from recognising household work as labour, and then having an equitable distribution of work.

A policy brief by the International Labour Organisation says: ‘Before the COVID-19 crisis, 16.4 billion hours were spent in unpaid care work every day across the world, with over two-thirds performed by women. During the pandemic, many women and men have seen the hours they devote to unpaid care work increase as a consequence of school and daycare closures, reductions in public services for people with disabilities and the elderly, the non-availability of domestic workers and the need to look after family members with COVID-19.’  

In the days ahead, we look to unpack some of these gendered roles as we study the impact Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown has had on the lives of women. In Episode 11 of the podcast, The Invisible Work of Care, we reflect on this through the lives of two women living in different cities. In The Hardwork of Sharing the Housework, Dwithiya Raghavan writes about the daily struggle of navigating generations of conditioning and how that plays out in her relationship with her husband. We’ve also put together a list of resources of books, movies and podcasts for you to dip into, called The Many Lives of Women.

In the process of thinking and writing about this for the podcast, I found myself paying more attention to the many tasks I do myself everyday. Work that I’ve never recognised as being work. The recognition in and of itself feels valuable. Also because it’s given more voice and shape to ongoing conversations I’ve had with my own partner. 

As always, we’d love to hear from you, so do write in to us with any thoughts or reflections you may have. Stay safe and well.

(Team TCC)

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