The pandemic locked even more Indian women out of the workforce. Their return will depend partly on whether the upheaval forces men to bear an equal share of housework. If there’s one line that most conversations between women begin with these days—mothers and daughters, interviewees and interviewers, friends, sisters-in-law—it’s usually this one: “How are you managing?” There is an immense amount of pressure as COVID changing the culture at home for both men and women.
It isn’t the same as “Are you okay?” One woman is not checking if the other is floundering, but is acknowledging that many women are having to perform multiple roles simultaneously, a feat of juggling that has been precarious at best, and impossible at worst. Across the world, the hours spent on housework and care-work have grown for both men and women, but for women they have grown from a much higher base, creating an unprecedented double burden for working women. In India, new evidence indicates, this has happened alongside a greater loss of employment for women, and within the context of deeply unequal gender norms and COVID is changing the culture at home.
From 55% of women doing the cooking before the lockdown, 79% were now doing the cooking, for instance. The larger share of men in the paid workforce. In percentage terms, the fall in employment among men was 29%, compared with a figure of 39% for women. Four out of every 10 women who were working during the last year lost their jobs during the lockdown.
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COVID changing the culture at home: a burden
India’s labour statistics do a poor job of capturing the paid and unpaid work performed by educated, better-off women in big cities, precisely because they are, as measured against the Indian labour market as a whole, so rare. But from conversations with a range of women (all of whom—and their interviewer—needed to schedule and reschedule multiple times around their household responsibilities to be able to set up calls), it is clear that COVID changing the culture at home for both men and women. But as households were forced to fold inwards, some hard divisions got blurred. By April, both men and women were spending more time on housework.
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