Parents play an important role in their children’s upbringing, regardless of whether or not they are able to control every factor in their development. Parents are responsible for imparting important life skills to their children like how to clean, how to cook, how to shop, how to budget, and how to fetch water.
However, in the African setting mostly, from birth, many parents tend to lead boys and girls on different tracks. Tasks like fetching water, collecting firewood, or taking care of younger siblings are the girls’ responsibility. This is largely considered a woman’s ‘natural’ responsibility.
Consequently, in poor families girls are often the first to sacrifice important opportunities to learn, grow, and enjoy their childhood.
A 2016 study titled “Harnessing the Power of Data for Girls: Taking Stock and Looking Ahead to 2030”, released by UNICEF ahead of the International Day of the Girl Child on October 11, found out that girls still do more household work compared to boys.
A girl aged 5-9 spends an average of almost four hours per week on household chores while older girls aged 10-14 spend around nine hours per week on these activities. In some regions and countries, these numbers are twice as high.
The study found that on average in the three countries, which are in Africa, with the highest prevalence of involvement in household chores, more than half of the girls aged five to 14 spend at least 14 hours per week, or at least two hours per day, on household chores (Somalia 64%, Ethiopia 56% and Rwanda 48%).
What experts say
According to gender experts, these different gender roles can take females and males in very different directions in life, ultimately influencing how much women will work, and how little their effort is valued and can sometimes even impede good female-male relations.
This unequal distribution of labor among children also perpetuates gender stereotypes and creates a burden of unpaid care work for women and girls across generations.
The chairperson of Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (RWAMREC), a local organisation dedicated in addressing gender related issues using the Men Engage approach, Fidèle Rutayisire, said that engaging young boys in the same household shores as the ones given to girls can have a huge impact in the way they behave in their future household.
“When parents are assigning tasks to their children they have to make sure the available tasks are divided appropriately mainly giving boys the real tasks which the society highly attribute to female such as cooking ,cleaning the house and taking care of the younger baby. Progressively, these young boys will consider them normal tasks,” he says.
Rutayisire further noted that while children love to learn they also like to copy their parents, which means that in households with both mother and daddy. The father should present a good example by helping with those chores because when his son observes him doing it, he will grow thinking that it is how things should be done.
While some people say that gender roles distribution are engraved in the Rwandan culture and social norms , the cultural body indicates that all cultures are inherently predisposed to change and with time some practices are left behind
However, this change comes with resistance. Older people, in particular, are often reluctant to replace their comfortable, long familiar cultural patterns.
Dr James Vuningoma, Executive Secretary Rwanda Academy of Language and Culture (RALC), says that as society develops, culture develops as well and in that process some old practices that put some women down and privileges have to change.
“A good culture is a culture which gives equal participation to all the members of society and in that context overburdening women or girls with more housework than men is something that needs to change. That positive change should start at the family level, by treating all children the same way without any discrimination,” he says.
The Executive Secretary of the National Women’s Council Jacqueline Kamanzi, stressed that families are the engine of the community and society mindset change, in such a way that when members of families incorporate good gender practices it goes on to impact their neighbours.
“We all want our kids to grow up to be responsible adults. But when we refuse to, or neglect giving our boys household chores, it teaches them that they can get away with making a mess and that girls will clean up after them. Girls also learn that housework is their responsibility, these poor mentalities have to be uprooted in our families, she says.
Kamanzi added that everyone in the family has to understand their role in creating a gender inclusive environment. Both parents have to be good role models and teach their children to treat one another equally, which they will grow up to practice when they create their own families.