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Women do most of the heavy lifting

September 30, 2020 06:28 AM


Women do most of the heavy lifting

Abhishek Jha

New Delhi : A first-of-its-kind National Statistical Office (NSO) report released on Tuesday puts numbers to a well-known fact — that Indian women bear the brunt of household work and domestic chores.

According to the report, the average Indian woman spends 243 minutes, a little over four hours, on these, which is almost ten times the 25 minutes the average man does. Thanks to the greater burden of domestic work, men spend more time than women in every other activity -- working, studying, even just taking care of themselves.

“It has been widely known, and for long, that Indian women undertake a lot of unpaid domestic work. The time use survey only reveals the extent of the disproportionate burden on women. Yet, it is an important first step towards recognition and a greater appreciation of their contribution,” said Reetika Khera, associate professor of economics at Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi.

Interestingly, there seems to be an inverse relationship between age and the amount of time spent by women on household chores, but a direct one between age and the time spent by men on these. While women above the age of 60 see a sharp fall in their domestic work burden, men tend to devote greater time to domestic work when they cross 60.

The report is based on a survey of 138,000 households in 2019 and looked at anyone over the age of six. While this may seem too young, it is a fact that, especially in poor households, and in rural India, young boys, and more often, young girls, are asked to perform chores.

An average Indian woman spends 19.5% of her time engaged in either unpaid domestic work or unpaid care-giving services, according to the survey conducted between January and December 2019. Men spend just 2.5% of a 24-hour period on these activities. In every other group of activities — from employment and learning to socializing, leisure, and self-care activities like sleeping and eating — men spend a higher share of their daily time than women.

In terms of participation, 81% women take on domestic chores, compared to just 26% of men. Even within domestic work, there is a gender-based division of responsibilities.

It is only when they turn 60 that women seem to find respite from domestic work. A broad age-group wise breakup suggests that above the age of 60, the participation of women in unpaid domestic and care-giving services reduces drastically. “The fact that women do less unpaid work after 60 could be the result of greater participation by men, and in joint families, it could be a reflection of the older women passing on the work load to their younger bahus (daughter-in-laws),” Khera said.

There are also differences in participation of women in daily activities depending on where they live. Rural women participate more on paid or unpaid work, whereas urban women participate more in learning, socializing or leisure activities. The survey also shows that urban women who participate in employment and related activities spend 375 minutes a day on these as compared to 317 minutes spent by rural women.

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