To mark the launch of UN Women’s biannual report Progress of the World’s Women, today UN Women’s Executive Director Julie McKay writes for Mamamia about women, men and unpaid work.
Today, UN Women has launched its biannual report Progress of the World’s Women which calls for widespread action to improve women’s economic security. Among the report’s recommendations is another call for responsibility for men and women to share the burden of unpaid care work, which remains a barrier for many women from workforce participation and educational opportunities.
The report details a range of strategies for how to re-balance equality and economic access including making recommendations for macro-economic policy.
While all of the recommendations in the report are valid, I can’t help but be frustrated by the question it doesn’t address –who cleans the toilet?
Just for fun, ask it in any boardroom in this country and watch people start to squirm. Ultimately, every day most men make a choice not to do their share of the unpaid work. Every excuse under the sun has been used to justify this choice. Some of my favourites include:
“I have a demanding job with long hours.”
“My partner prefers to do the cleaning as she has very high standards and I don’t meet them when I try to clean the bathroom.”
“I do more cleaning than most of my mates.”
Perhaps the choice is not ever made consciously; it might be that men simply role model their fathers and women learn from the societal norms that are presented to them and take up these responsibilities without question. But whatever the reason, perhaps we need to have a conversation about reversing this trend.
Progress of the World’s Women finds, unsurprisingly, that women perform more unpaid care work than men. In the United States, the total value of unpaid childcare services was estimated to be $3.2 trillion, or approximately 20% of the total value of GDP. In Australia, it is reported that women do 66% of the unpaid care work, which makes it the most significant contributing factor to the gender gap in retirement savings and retirement income.
Interestingly, while men report doing more housework than ever before, women report that little has changed in the burden of unpaid work. ABS data shows that men spend on average 1 hour 36 minutes per day on domestic activities, compared to 2 hours 52 for women per day.
Some families are lucky enough to have a cleaner, and so when asked ‘who cleans the toilet in your house’, men proudly respond ‘the cleaner!’. But even in households where there is a paid cleaner, there is still unpaid work – planning of family events, paying bills, cleaning and cooking between weekly cleans, packing school lunches, doing the food shopping. The gender of the customers at your local supermarket continue to be an indicator of the gendered nature of unpaid work.