By Salome Nthenya Nzuki
In my childhood, I always fought with my mother over household chores. I did not understand her strict insistence that I should be the one to carry them out, and not my brother. Cooking, cleaning dishes, clothes and the house and were duties that I heavily resented.
But I had no option. As a result, I performed the chores with a heavy heart and of course a frown. These chores ate into my time. Consequently, I had less time to study, watch television and even interact with friends.
Household chores limit girls’ potential to fully exploit their talents, as well as other opportunities outside the home.
Division of labour in most families is based on gender. Girls are assigned roles that confine them to the homestead while boys take up “outdoor-ish” activities. They, in most cases, do not have as much responsibility as girls.
Girls are “naturally” expected to like and take up household chores in order to be responsible home keepers in future. Boys are moulded into becoming providers, and are therefore encouraged to be active in school, and to take up science subjects. Boys are also prepared, from an early age, to assume leadership positions. They learn different skills such as debating, driving and using technology.
What is the impact of this unfair gender division of labour? For one, boys are taught to be superior to girls and therefore take roles that generate income while, right from birth, girls are taught to be passive and let the boys lead. This cultural perception of what boys and girls can or cannot do eventually shapes how boys and girls take up opportunities in life. For example, the number of women in professions such as engineering, architecture and politics is very little. These fields are considered “male”, and those girls/women brave enough to take them up are considered to have defied gender norms.
In most societies, high premium is placed on girls’ performance in domestic work compared to their education qualifications. A girl’s worth is evaluated by how she’s going to make a good mother and wife in future, and most therefore have little time for self-development. This includes little time to study or acquire skills.
With little or no skills, girls and women are unable to secure meaningful employment opportunities. Division of labour based on gender perpetuates dependence of women on the men who’ve been brought up to be breadwinners. This dependence on men for survival leads to exploitation of women and girls.
Though women are slowly gaining entry into the workforce, they are still expected to maintain their traditional gender roles. Striking a balance between work and family life has proved to be a heavy cross for most women to carry. Women get into trouble for reporting late at work and this limits their chances of promotion. Most are equally unable to stay at work past working hours because they have to rush home to perform household duties.
Gender inequalities stem right from the family. The family is the primary unit of socialisation. It is an institution that shapes people’s perceptions, identity and outcomes in life. Families should also strive to divide labour equally between boys and girls. Girls ought to be encouraged to take up subjects and also gain skills considered male.
There are a lot of benefits of investing in women and girls. Women and girls have the ability to contribute to the growth of the economy, just as men. Additionally they invest most of their income in the nutrition and health of the family. For these reasons, parents should not burden their girls with too much domestic chores at the expense of their (girls) self-development.
Let’s strive to address inequalities at home for a freer, equal society. Equality for girls equals to freedom for all. ^
Writer has a degree in Gender and Development Studies, and is a gender activist