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Can we achieve gender equality in care work and housework?

Mother juggling between work and caregiving responsilbilities
Image source: Unsplash

In general, care work and housework responsibilities have been typically relegated to women, riding on the assumption that women tend to be naturally suited for these responsibilities. This is a pervasive form of gender essentialism, the notion that men and women are fundamentally different in interests and skills. Although our move towards gender equality has made notable strides in past decades, this unequal distribution of care work and housework may still be prevalent. This is also echoed in a 2013 study conducted by the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

Admittedly, 2013 may seem quite dated. So how do we fare now, and how can we tackle this problem of an unequal distribution of care work and housework?

To unpack this issue, let’s examine this from a seemingly unrelated angle: gender differences in the workforce. Our surveys show that gender equality in terms of women’s participation in formal work has improved.

Unequal participation between formal and informal economy across genders

Though a commendable improvement, this extent of involvement in formal work for females become slightly different once we examine trends across the life course, such as with additional factors of marital status and age.

Upon further examination of the reasons for not working, there is a stark difference in the main reasons cited by women as compared to their male peers.

Ultimately, this reflects the constraints of domestic-care responsibilities on women’s career choices and advancement and unequal distribution of care work and housework duties.

Society move towards gender egalitarianism has been largely limited to the trend of women entering traditionally ‘male’ spheres of work or activities. However, this phenomenon is accompanied by a relative lack of changes in the opposite direction for men. Sociologist Paula England coined this as an “unequal and stalled” gender revolution.

In other words, whilst women have been entering the formal economy by taking up jobs, not enough men have entered the “informal” economy of taking up housework and care work. Thus, women are still expected to shoulder a disproportionate amount of housework and care work.

How we can potentially equalise gender differences at the workplace

To find out more about this issue, OPPi’s opinion diagnostic tool was used to explore our perceptions about care work, housework and how they intersect with our careers. The following slideshow captures the wide range of sentiments surrounding this issue in Singapore.

Thus, a possible way to mitigate this would be to examine how we can implement a more equal distribution of care work and housework, particularly among working parents. Similarly, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong highlighted the need for greater support for women at work. Let’s take a look at our findings from another poll, which surfaced 2 main opinion groups about existing parental policies in the workplace.

The general trend seems to signal that existing work arrangements are not standardised across different organisations, whilst asserting the importance of workplace parental policy decisions in alleviating and managing the distribution of care work and housework.

Our lives are complex. Gender equality issues are not merely limited to women alone. Government, organisations and civil society form the basis for an egalitarian society. When we look at achieving gender equality, we have to recognise how informal care work such as housework and caregiving responsibilities intertwine with the formal realm of work, influencing career progression for women and their involvement in formal work. With 2021 dedicated as the year of celebrating women, our efforts towards gender equality should include more comprehensive and multi-faceted efforts from society as a whole.

We will love to find out more insights into the common ground of polarising issues. Find out more about how we discover common ground on OPPi.



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