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Burden for one, shared workload for two

In our part of the world where the burden of unpaid domestic work falls squarely on the shoulders of women, a recent report by this daily has highlighted a delightful deviation from this norm. According to the report, under the Gender Responsive Coastal Adaptation (GCA) project – being implemented in five upazilas of Khulna and Satkhira districts by the government, Green Climate Fund, and the UNDP – men in these areas are increasingly starting to do their share of domestic chores. Along the coastal belt, one of the primary tasks for women has been to fetch water, which causes them great physical stress. As the report states, for the men of the households to participate in this task has not only eased the burden for their female partners, but also set an example for other men in the area to follow. Of course, this is only a small shift towards a collective goal that may remain unattainable for many years to come, given the existing social norms.

According to the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics' (BBS) Time Use Survey 2021, women spent 11.7 hours daily performing unpaid domestic tasks, while men's share of that amounted to a meagre 1.6 hours. Irrespective of economic or family background, profession, number and age of children, level of education, or area of residence, unpaid domestic work seems inescapable for all women. Even when it came to care work for family members, women were found to spend at least four hours a day on such tasks, while men in both urban and rural areas contributed only 0.6 hours for the same. An analysis carried out by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem) revealed that, while unpaid work was equal to 48.54 percent of the country's GDP in FY 2016-17, women's contribution made up 81.4 percent of that amount. As such, given just how disproportionately women must bear the load of unpaid care work, our country still has a long way to go to right this wrong. 

Nevertheless, the fact that men in coastal areas are beginning to step up and help the women in their households by shouldering the burden of domestic tasks is something that must be lauded. Such trends will also dissipate the widely held but biased belief that people in the urban areas have to be the ones to lead the way in Bangladesh bridging the gender gap in all sectors. Men sharing women's unpaid domestic and care work will benefit us all, as this will free up the latter's time to also explore their potential in doing work that is considered to be economically productive. It is also high time we stopped viewing care work as "free labour," and gave those who partake in them due recognition and wages for their contributions to the family and the economy at large.