By Rose Hackman. Rose is a volunteer contributor to the 10×10 blog. She’s a British journalist living in DC who’s covered nonprofits in Europe and will soon be living part time in East Africa.
Women (and girls) work so much more than men (and boys).
It’s a funny concept and an ongoing debate that I regularly have with my friends. It’s often true for girls and women around the world. It’s also something that can ultimately stop development by limiting education and freezing long-term prospects for individual girls and entire communities.
These thoughts came to mind because of an article I read on bclocalnews.com written by Sarah Becklake, a development professional who works on sex education in Guatemala with an organization called WINGS. I was intrigued by a workshop she described witnessing where thirty young Guatemalans were each asked to associate a type of work (a job or task in their local community) to one of three different figures that had been taped up to the wall. The three figures were of a woman, a man, and a woman and a man together. Becklake reported that students taking part in the exercise associated three quarters of the jobs with the image of the woman all by herself –an eye-opening experience for all of those involved. Do girls and women do 75% of the work in your community?
Going beyond talking about STIs and contraception and choosing to open a debate on gender roles is needed to push girls to at least enroll and hopefully complete primary school in Guatemala. According to a 2002 report by USAID, which has been working in the region tackling this specific issue, community perceptions combined with immediate cost are the two main factors keeping girls out of school.
Loading women and girls with traditional responsibilities can have a variety of dire effects, but for girls in the developing world, the worst effect is often a loss of education – a life-altering loss, not just for them, but for their future children and surrounding communities. Today, around two thirds of the world’s illiterate are women and girls.
In another recent 10×10 blog entry, Alexandria Dionne describes how fetching water in Ethiopia is traditionally a girl’s responsibility. If the well is hours away, this can mean not being able to go to school and an early interruption in any kind of educational pursuit. The situation is similar in other countries such as in Yemen, where increased water scarcity often means longer journey times for girls fetching water and therefore increased chances of having to quickly drop out of school.
But let’s not think we’re that much more advanced where we are.
In the western world, we are told that in the 1950s work was strictly divided up between the sexes by a line separating the private and the public domains.
Was life more equal then? In some ways, maybe.
Back then, women had a heavy workload at home whereas men had a heavy workload once they left home for, well, work. Over the years came emancipation, and with emancipation came choice. For women in western countries that meant being able to choose higher forms of education, to go out and work, earn a wage and – in theory – earn their independence. What hasn’t changed much though is the responsibility they tend to take on at home. In a survey undertaken in Canada in 2005, women between the ages of 25 and 54 averaged one extra hour a day in household chores when compared to their male counterparts. While this could be a sign of different lifestyle choices, these kinds of surveys could also be a sign that gender stereotypes and expectancies at home remain un-shed.
Another study from 2011 published by the OECD and picked up by the New York Times Economix blog this March, highlights different times dedicated to child care – again around an extra hour a day for women. This is particularly interesting, as the paper found that working fathers spent only ten extra minutes per day on childcare when not working versus seventy extra minutes for women in the same situation.
What do these different examples tell us? I will keep to three roaringly generalized conclusions.
Breaking gender cycles requires education, education requires the breaking of gender cycles and finally (closer to home) despite education some gender cycles stick.