real life

Who cleans the toilet in your house? If it's not a man, you need to read this post.

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.

‘Ultimately, every day most men make a choice not to do their share of the unpaid work.’

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.

Excuses for shying away from unpaid work include: “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.”

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.

Related: 15 things that’ll happen before the gender pay gap closes.

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.

Julie McKay.

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.


Related: This dad has done the numbers: here’s exactly what a stay at home parent is worth.

There is also the issue of who does the thinking and the planning in households. Who in your family thinks about what groceries are needed, what the weekend looks like around all the various commitments, what cleaning needs to be done around agreed social engagements? Taking responsibility for 50 percent of unpaid work, isn’t just doing the vacuuming when you are told to. It is recognising that the cleaning needs to be done, and doing it, before having to be asked.

If each male in Australia made a commitment to doing half the unpaid household work – the cooking, cleaning and caring – it would go a long way towards supporting the recommendations being made by UN Women’s Progress of the World’s Women Report. I suspect we would see higher workforce participation, a closing of the gender pay gap and more women entering non-traditional roles, which are often in higher paying industries.

Related: 4 lies people tell about the gender pay gap (and how you should respond).

So, while today’s report launch is absolutely a call to action to the Australian Government, for me – it is a call to individual men. Make a difference choice. You may not be able to control whether we can deliver systemic childcare reforms in the next 5 years. You may not be able to influence government spending on critical services for women. You may not have the power to change macroeconomic policy outcomes to prevent them being gender blind. But you do have the power to choose to change your behaviour at home. Talk to your family about what a 50/50 split in unpaid work might look like – and do your share.

Of course I recognise that there are some amazing men out there who are doing exactly this already and we should recognise their early adoption of this challenge. I stop short of saying that we should celebrate and recognise their contribution – because after all, they are just doing their share.

If you are willing to take this challenge – sign up to be a UN Women #HeforShe today – and challenge your mates to join you in what will be one of the most significant steps towards gender equality in our lifetime. And remember, if you don’t clean the toilet (no matter what your excuse)– you’re probably not doing your share!

Who does the lion’s share of the housework in your home?