From caregiving to household chores: Know how unpaid labour can impact a woman’s mental health

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For most women within a family, a regular day may begin much before everyone else in the family wakes up.  Especially when she may be a homemaker. Household chores may even range from sweeping, mopping and preparing meals for family members. Amidst all that, they take care of their husband or kids’ or elderly family members’ needs. And if they are working women, they also need to take out time to get ready. Once they are in office, they are tied up with office work. Not that homemakers get a breather once kids go to school or husband heads to the office. There is a whole lot to do. Caregiving and doing household chores might be considered women’s domains, but it turns out that unpaid labour affects their mental health.

A lot of times, people take women for granted. Over time, unpaid labour exposes women to a greater risk of poor mental health than men. To find out more about it, Health Shots reached out to psychologist Dr Malini Saba.

Employed women are responsible for paid and unpaid labour. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Employed women are caught in a double bind

Homemakers have a busy day even though they aren’t running things in an office. But employed women are responsible for both paid and unpaid labour, including housework and child care. The two forms of unacknowledged labour impose a significant mental burden on women whose access to healthcare is already limited, according to Dr Saba.

Unpaid labour is a manifestation of inequality

We talk about equality, but how unpaid labour is mostly associated with women, is yet to be addressed through normative, policy or structural changes. It is often believed that women have a moral obligation to balance office work and family obligations. The expert noted that globally, it is known that employed and unemployed women devote increasing hours to unpaid labour. It is a trend that accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.

According to a study conducted by the Center for Global Development, globally, women took on 173 additional hours of unpaid child care in 2021, compared to 59 additional hours for men. The gap widened in low and middle-income countries, where women cared for children for more than three times as many hours as men did.

Dr Saba said that the double burden of paid and unpaid work exposes women to an increased risk of overwork, time poverty and deteriorating mental health.

Working from home is unpleasant for some women. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Working from home took a mental health toll for many women

There are many anecdotal and statistical examples of women juggling work and domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and caring for children and elderly relatives. Also, the additional housework made working from home unpleasant for many. This produces a “time poverty” of sorts, alluding to the lack of time women have for any form of recreation, rest, or recuperation. Their mental health can be harmed as a result of performing disproportionate labour and without access to healing, which is one of the narratives of physical and psychological abuse.

Working from home is used to boost the number of hours spent caring for children or performing household chores. Dr Saba noted that during the pandemic, limited employment opportunities, healthcare challenges, and a lack of child care led many women to abandon their occupations in order to care for their families. This was especially prevalent among low-income working mothers.

Allow men to take up their fair share

Reducing the disproportionate unpaid labour burden on women by allowing men to take up their fair share, has the potential to improve a woman’s mental health. This, along with other policy-oriented improvements such as promoting universal child care, could be real methods to reduce the mental and emotional strain of working two shifts. Even normalising flexible work arrangements for men can aid paid women in negotiating patriarchal and capitalist demands.

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