Firstly, I should apologize for my prolonged absence from the blog. I was traveling for work and assumed I’d still have the opportunity to blog but that never really worked out so here I am 6 weeks later, back in the office and back on engendering equality.
A very interesting point came up during my travels that I thought would be useful to bring up here. I was in Uganda, for part of the time, studying the Institute for Studies in Global Prosperity’s document on the equality of women and men with a non-governmental organization that focuses on the advancement of women and the topic of gender roles was brought up.
The organization we were meeting with focuses specifically on food security, so we were discussing what type of conversations they have with the people they work with in the villages. One of the women at the organization explained that most of the agricultural work is left to the old women and young girls, the youthful energetic ones rarely take part and yet they are among those benefitting from this work. The staff members were talking about the importance of creating a strong sense of community within the village so that everyone is participating in the production of food and everyone has enough to eat. It was clear to them that restructuring communities and promoting gender equality will require profound changes in the minds and hearts of people.
Two of the staff members at the NGO then began to discuss how they had actively begun to promote equality between women and men in their homes. One of the female staff members explained that she has three boys and one girl and that in her home, it was everyone’s responsibility to contribute to the chores. Her neighbors thought it was very strange that she made her sons participate in cooking. Normally the boys go and play and come back and eat. She said that in many homes in Uganda, boys will not do what is regarded as woman’s work. The male staff member agreed as he is an active contributor to the chores in his home, including making dinner and fetching water, much to the confusion of his neighbors.
The challenge of men taking more of an active role in the home is not limited to just Uganda, this subject was recently discussed in the New York Times**, reflecting on this issue in the United States and across Europe. While it has become easier for women to work outside of the home, men have been slower to participate in work around the house. The series of articles attempts to explore why this is so, although the conversation is often stuck in this very narrow understanding of work and success. They are written from the perspective that our current employment structure is best and that we have to think of ways in which we can get more women to be involved in this system. Yet it is clear that our current emphasis on material gain is not without its problems and has contributed to this stark division of work inside and outside the home, making it an either or situation, and promoting one (working outside the home) as having more value than the other.
Achieving total parity around the division of work between women and men inside and outside the home isn’t the benchmark of equality. Yet the lack of mobility regarding this issue is indicative of gender norms which stand in the way of equality. If so much of our identity as women and men is the acts that we perform and the responsibilities we have around the home, we will continue to perpetuate inequalities. What we need is the space in which to reflect on the roles that we assume to be natural and ask ourselves, where did they come from and what is their purpose?
**for some reason its not letting me link now, you can find the articles here http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/07/05/how-can-we-get-men-to-do-more-at-home