How the Covid-19 lockdown balanced domestic chores between men and women

Jérôme Nzitabakuze lights a fire to prepare food as his wife Nyirashyirambere peels banana. The couple says that redistribution of domestic chores has led to socio-cohesion values within their family. Régis Umurengezi

It is exactly 10:50 am and Jean de la Paix Manirakiza is bathing his two-year-old daughter outside the family house.

The father of two is also seen dashing to the kitchen every after a few minutes to check on the beans and potato dish that he is preparing for his family.

 

His spouse Joselyne Mukantwali is not seated. She is also busy washing dishes to ensure they have their lunch on time.

 

The family stays in about three kilometres of Musanze city centre, in Bukinanyana Cell, Cyuve Sector of Musanze District.

 

Previously, Manirakiza would get up as early as 5.00 a.m., have breakfast prepared by his spouse and leave the house at least thirty minutes later for his work as a taxi-moto operator.

“I had never realised domestic chores and care responsibilities are that difficult until this lockdown,” he said adding; “I would always blame my wife for being idle but I found I was wrong.”

Jean de la Paix Manirakiza bathes his two-year-old daughter. He says that spending about two months at home together with his wife proved to him how burden are unpaid care and domestic workloads. / Régis Umurengezi

Taxi-moto business is one of the activities that remain suspended even after government opened many sectors of the economy starting on May 4, as the country continues efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, Covid-19.

For Manirakiza, the two-month lockdown at home together with his wife and children proved to him how burdensome is unpaid care and domestic workload that are often unevenly distributed within families, mainly leaving this burden to women.

Unpaid Care Work refers to the many services that women and girls provide in their homes and in communities, from preparing food and cleaning to taking care of children, nursing the sick at home, among others.

In most communities, especially in rural set-ups, chores like cooking, cleaning, fetching water and collection of firewood are considered as women’s work, which

“Redistribution of household chores among family members is crucial if we are to develop our families and the country at large; I personally realised that our wives are unsung heroes given the hardship they go through while juggling with various home chores that we, the men never recognise,” Manirakiza told The New Times

Speaking with a smiling face, Joselyne Mukantwali, the wife of Manirakiza noted that she felt relieved by her husband who turned to helping with domestic chores.

“It brings joy when family members are redistributing household chores and care responsibilities; having my husband on board has really helped; it has also enhanced cohesion within our family,” she said.

The New Times also caught up with the family of Jérôme Nzitabakuze and Anasalie Nyirashyirambere from Mburabuturo Cell, Muko Sector in Musanze District.

Nzitabakuze, a casual labourer, revealed that the lockdown might have come with financial constraints because he stopped work but he says that the harmony it has brought in his home has been most impactful.

“Previously, whenever finished work, my first stop would be the bar where I then spent much of the day’s wage and return home with hardly anything to feed the family,” he said.

The father of three added: “Consequently, my wife and children will never have to collect firewood again; I will rather be doing it myself because during the lockdown, I realized how unsafe this chore can be.”

Nzitabakuze washes dishes so as to alleviate his spouse from domestic chores. In most societies, cooking, cleaning, fetching water, and collection of firewood are still considered as women’s work. / Courtesy

Nyirashyirambere welcomed this change in attitude by her husband, noting that the relief from some of the chores has pushed her to think of ways to initiate a small- income-generating business to supplement the income from her husband.

Nyirashyirambere and other women, however, expressed anxieties that they were not sure that their spouses won’t change mindsets once lockdown is fully lifted. 

“My husband was probably doing this because he had no alternative since the bars are closed. You can never be so sure but I am optimistic,” he said.

Activists weigh in

Gender activists who spoke to The New Times suggested that people should always understand that unpaid care work is everyone's responsibility within families to ensure associated consequences are tackled.

"The Covid-19 lockdown was an opportunity to become more conscious about the burden of women's unpaid care work and its related negative consequences such as  gender-based violence and limited time to benefit from existing economic opportunities," said Shamsi Kazimbaya, a gender expert

Kazimbaya, who is a senior program officer with Promundo US, a global leader in advancing gender equality, went on to call on men to change patriarchal and behavioural mindset for them to actively contribute to domestic care and the country’s development at large.

"COVID-19 should be taken as a learning process where family members; men especially, learn a lot in terms of redistribution of unpaid care work, keep the momentum, take forward that experience and apply in their everyday lives, become role models for their children, sons in particular because everyone definitely benefits from family wellbeing including men themselves," she advised.

Speaking to The New Times, the Musanze District vice mayor for social affairs, Axelle Kamanzi underscored that the district and its partners were using all available platforms to ensure they address uneven distribution of unpaid care work.

“Unpaid care work is something that needs to be thoroughly tackled for the development of a family which is actually the foundation of the country’s development; that’s why as the district we always sensitise on residents notably family members to redistribute the work,” she noted.

She challenged men to change the patriarchal mindset and overcome the superiority complexes to actively contribute to domestic care and the country’s development at large.

What figures say

A countrywide research commissioned by ActionAid Rwanda in 2019 that assessed the status and effects of Unpaid Care Work on women’s economic empowerment, found that domestic work is unevenly shared where women spend 6 hours in rural, 5 hours in semi-urban areas and 2 hours in cities daily.

This is while men spend 2 hours in rural, an hour in suburbs and towns daily as in cities most household chores are done by domestic workers.

Evaluation in 5 Districts where ActionAid operates found that its target groups have increased time allocated on productive work from 5 to 7 hours that significantly increased their income between 8-12 per cent.

Research by the International Labor organization (ILO) presented in the United Nations’ sixty-third session of the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW63), that took place in 2019 found that women globally spend on average 4hours and 25 minutes per day doing Unpaid Care Work while men spend only 1 hour and 23 minutes per day.

Analysis of Data from 28 countries has revealed that the value of Unpaid Care Work and housework ranges from 12 to 40 percent of GDP as per 2015 UNDP report.

editor@newtimesrwanda.com

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