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International Women’s Day: The tough but unpaid work women do at home

 Published: March 8, 2018

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. PHOTO: ISTOCK

“So do you work or are you just a housewife?”

I remember being asked this question many times by people I was meeting for the first time. I also remember asking other women the same insensitive question, simply because I too, like so many of us, had been conditioned to only value work that gets remuneration in return.

Looking back, the years during which I took a hiatus from work as a journalist, because I was looking after a home and my family, were the years I perhaps worked the hardest. Even physically.

Imagine for a moment that the women all around us – the mothers, the wives, the daughters and daughters-in-law, the sisters and the sisters-in-law – demanded they be paid for the care and services they provide to their families. Imagine what their bank statement would look like at the end of the year!

Let’s look at the numbers. Around the world, women spend two to 10 times more time on unpaid care work and domestic work than men – work that is not often counted in labour statistics. Countries have valued unpaid care work between 15% and 39% of national GDP. Data shows that women often have a higher total work burden than men when paid and unpaid work is combined.

On March 7, 2018, Data2X launched a new report –“Invisible No More? A Methodology and Policy Review of How Time Use Surveys Measure Unpaid Work” –  with 18 case studies of countries that have started harnessing time use (TU) surveys to measure unpaid work and generate policy change regarding many issues relevant to social development. This is, in turn, making the world look at the tangible value of unpaid care and household work.

The report defines unpaid care and household work as work done by people to take care of their households and others – everyday unsung chores like cooking, cleaning, caring for children, the ill, and the elderly, and many other important tasks.

So many women among us are super women, literally. They do the jobs of cooks, cleaners, drivers, nurses, tuition teachers, psychological counsellors. They manage homes, finances and relationships. Any study of geriatrics shows that it is mostly, if not always, daughters who can be seen serving old parents and even parents-in-law.

TU surveys are important tools to understand where we, as members of the society, spend our most valuable asset – time. TU surveys, as the aforementioned report states, are quantitative summaries of how people spend their time over a specific period and how much time is spent doing each activity. These surveys help collect data that can be used to improve economic and social policies and have been used to advocate for policies that reduce the care burden, including expanding care for preschool children, elderly people, and people with disabilities. They inform and promote child protection policies by highlighting child labour and promoting broader child welfare systems. They help countries better value the contribution of unpaid care work to an economy, relative to GDP. Once we know who is spending time doing what in a society, countries can drive public campaigns to promote shared responsibilities in the home.

Today, we are celebrating International Women’s Day. And these issues can no longer be avoided. In rural areas, the load of carrying water still disproportionately falls on the women of the world because men, traditionally, do work that gets financial support for the family. But imagine if the women in rural Pakistan started charging for carrying the water back home. After all, this disparity does not only cost women time but also energy, and caloric requirements of water-fetchers increase – a requirement which is often not met for women. This is why now emphasis is being placed on highlighting the importance of men sharing the load of household chores with their women.

But what happens practically? The lion’s share of the food is given to the man because, hey, he is the one who earns. Managing a home, giving birth to children and then feeding them – it is a lot of unsung heroic work – one that needs to be appreciated. It’s high time.

As the Data2X report mentions, it is encouraging to see that slowly but surely, measuring reliably and comprehensively the unpaid household and care work traditionally performed by women has risen in prominence as a major challenge for official statistics.

Last year, in an encouraging initiative, the government of Sindh stood poised to adopt a policy for home-based workers (HBWs), making it the first province in the country to implement such a policy. Nonetheless, the fact remains that the list of home-based workers generally does not include the work women do at home.

Data2X’s new report mentions that in 2017, India’s Ministry of Labour and Employment’s Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act recognising women’s time spent in care work, went into effect. Such policies are needed in all developing countries.

The time has come that not just men, but also women, start recognising the immense contribution of women in the survival of a family and a society. Every woman works, even though she may not get paid for it. So let’s not dismiss their contribution, for they are the axis around which a society revolves.

Do you think women should be paid for household chores and care work?

  •  Yes, about time
  •  No, it’s part of their responsibilities

     View Results

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the fields of communications and media training. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets as @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

Success story: How a news story won a gang-rape victim justice

By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: January 2, 2014

KARACHI:
“We are poor people. We never expected to get justice. We are all so happy that at least the culprits have been punished. Thank you, adi (sister). The story your newspaper published had a strong impact, as did the pressure from rights activists. We got justice,” says a grateful and emotional *T, husband of a gang-rape victim in Tharparkar some three months after the horrific incident.
From the time when *M was raped till the verdict came, T and his family went through hell. The motive behind the crime turned out to be some men of their own community in Tharparkar getting back at each other. It ended in *M getting gang raped in front of her husband and children some three months ago. “We are grateful, though even 14 years is not enough punishment for what they did. No punishment is enough,” says T, satisfied with the justice but not yet healed of the trauma.
“This is such a success story. It is cause to celebrate. The credit goes a 100 per cent to the joint efforts of the media, civil society and rights activists,” says a delighted Amar Sindhu who was very much involved in the activism behind the case. Sindhu represents the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and is a member of the Sindh Human Rights Commission. She added that the popular perception of locals is that if the media highlights an issue, justice follows. Sindhu and others like her played an important role by guiding the victim and her family to get justice through legal procedures.

“The prominent coverage given by The Express Tribune to the issue really helped, along with human rights activists who brought spotlight to the issue. Authorities had no option but to take this case seriously after the pressure was applied. Media, in general, played a good role in this case,” says Ali Akbar, Executive Director, Association for Water, Applied Education & Renewable Energy (AWARE) in Tharparkar. According to Akbar, he heard from the local authorities and regional language media confirmed that the Chief Justice took notice of the case, and that helped expedite the police’s prompt action in arresting the perpetrators.
In an encouraging turn of events and an unusual case of culprits actually getting punished, the eight men who committed the heinous crime have each been awarded 14 years prison term by the anti-terrorism court in Mirpurkhas. “Because the perpetrators used weapons, we were advised by a lawyer that the case should go to the anti-terrorism court from the district and sessions judge,” said Akbar. The fact that the case was taken up in the anti-terrorism court helped expedite the verdict.
This encouraging verdict came a few days ahead of the Chief Justice taking suo motu notice of the recent Karachi rape case of a 12 year old girl, and took notice of the non-arrest of those who raped the five-year-old girl in Lahore on September 13.
“This was the first prominent incident of gang rape in Tharparkar. It was the first time punishment had to be meted out in this area under Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 376 (2). We, the police, are glad that our investigation and hard work have paid off,” says Ghulam Mustafa Kachelo, Station House Officer (SHO), Taluka Chachro. He was on duty on the case.
Akbar feels that this has set a good precedent that the wronged have gotten justice, and this will in the future be a deterrent for others who think of committing such a crime.
“Undoubtedly, very few rape cases have had convictions. This is a welcome move that courts are beginning to take such cases seriously and are recognising the crime and the prevailing conditions. This should be highlighted that now courts have begun convictions in such cases,” says Justice Majida Rizvi, Chairperson Sindh Human Rights Commission.
“We are thankful to all those who echoed the voice of the Thari people and supported the process of getting justice. With this success, we have realised that the media can play a pivotal role in helping vulnerable people,” says Akbar.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 2nd, 2014.
http://tribune.com.pk/story/653741/success-story-how-a-news-story-won-a-gang-rape-victim-justice/

Kankar: Was Kiran right or wrong in divorcing her husband?

By Farahnaz Zahidi
Published: December 9, 2013

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/19988/kankar-was-kiran-right-or-wrong-in-divorcing-her-husband/

The first slap is the worst – red, hot searing pain across the face. But what sears through is more than a slap. Something breaks inside. A feeling of helplessness, vulnerability and a shattered sense of self-worth takes over which is why, a woman’s first reflex reaction is always disbelief; shock. It is an instant realisation of the painful reality that she will never forget that moment. That she will never be able to unlearn this blow.

Sanam Baloch depicted a battered woman’s experience beautifully in the recent Hum TV serial Kankar which ended on December 6, 2013. The serial, with its protagonist ‘Kiran’ being a woman who chooses ‘honour’ over a damaging and abusive marriage, seems to have hit a raw nerve with people. Its popularity lies in the fact that this play has managed to raise some important questions.

With more and more research unearthing the fact that many Pakistani women get beaten in urban cities and a lot of them are educated women – it is not surprising then that a debate has ensued because of this play. I encountered a sample of that debate on my Facebook wall, at dinners and with close friends.

It was fascinating to me that Kiran’s character is that of a lower middle-class girl. The abusive but handsome and rich husband (played by Fahad Mustafa) claims to ‘love’ her and so is her ticket to a better, more affluent life.

In reality, a lot of urban and affluent women stay in abusive marriages, even suffering domestic violence, to maintain the social status and a standard of living.

But Kiran chooses to leave all of that behind.

She remarries a man who takes her around on a motorbike and she is busy with household chores all day. She leaves behind a life of luxury, simply because this man will potentially respect her more.

Mind you, she doesn’t leave Mr ‘I-love-you-means-I-can-beat-you’ right away. She gives him warnings and chances. It is after she miscarries when he hits her that she realises she has had enough.

izzat

But the responses I got to the question ‘did she do the right thing’ were a mix of encouraging and disturbing.

One friend said,

“Life is not a bed of roses; you have to compromise at some point. No one gets a perfect life, so one should see the positives and then decide.”

This response made me think. Compromise is a good thing, but one can only compromise so much. And is it ok to compromise on things as serious as getting beaten up without reason? This was the view of another friend, a male, and I just listened, at a loss for words.

“But the reason she was beaten up was because she was a very headstrong woman! She argued too much. Women who don’t learn to keep quiet end up suffering. See, in this serial, he is fine with his second wife because she doesn’t argue.”

Arguing to legitimise a beating? The logic somehow escaped me. However, as it turned out, in the next episode once the initial phase of the guy’s second marriage was over, he meted out the same treatment to his second wife.

As expected, Kiran was stigmatised by society and even discouraged by her sister and parents to take a divorce. But here’s the catch: To her, her ‘izzat’ (honour) is more important than just her ‘ghar’ (home). Thus, the play shows a paradigm shift. It shows that for this strong woman, honour in fact lies in NOT accepting abuses, demeaning behaviour and violence. That to her, izzat is not in staying in a marriage which has her known as Mrs Someone socially but also has her reminded of her poor family and slapped when in the privacy of her bedroom.

A friend agreed when she commented,

“It’s about whether we give more importance to money or izzat. If you give someone loads of money but no respect, is that a happy compromise?”

To this friend, it was a no brainer that Kiran did the right thing. To others, it was not.

One reason women stay on in such marriages is the often unrealistic hope that the person will change.

“You cannot change a person (completely). Many a women have wasted their lives in the hope… [while] a vicious cycle of abuse which only gets worse. And children brought up in this environment are more prone to psychological scarring,” said one friend on Facebook.

But another felt, and not without solid reasons, that everyone deserves a chance, and with counselling and effort, many couples are able to break the vicious cycle of abuse.

An interesting dynamic, as a young friend pointed out, was how this strategy of ‘controlling’ a woman via abuse is passed on like a family heirloom for generations.

“Kankar makes for such an engrossing watch because of the complexities of each character. Sikander is the product of an abusive relationship and classical conditioning plays an important role in his upbringing; if the wife argues or says anything that might remotely resemble anything as having an opinion, give her a good whack. Whereas Kiran is the quintessential headstrong girl of our times –somebody who knows her rights and does not shy away from demanding them. She is not willing to be treated as a doormat, and rightly so,” she concluded.

This friend rightly pointed out that the serial also shows the dichotomy between the earlier generation(s) and ours.

Sikander’s mother didn’t think her self-esteem was at stake when she was physically abused by his father, because she lived a life in which complacent acceptance of her secondary position and denial that this is a serious issue is a norm. Perhaps women today are more open to the idea of ending a relationship on grounds of self-respect.

Perhaps the best and most succinct comment came from a man, who believed that,

“Violence inflicted on a spouse (in particular) is never justified, unless it’s in self-defence or to protect another.”

This might be an especially good time to re-examine the debate that Kankar has managed to trigger. On the Human Rights Day that falls on December 10, 2013, a 16 day global campaign ends. This campaign started on November 25, 2013 which is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Relationships are sacred. But a person’s honour is even more so, may it be a male or a female. How we choose to protect our honour on the crossroads of life depends on many factors. In the climax of the serial, one woman chooses to leave an abusive relationship, though she loves the man. The other woman chooses not to because she does not find in herself the strength to do it.

It is not about who made a better choice, but about the fact that one must make careful and informed choices. It is time our society accepted that Pakistan has a growing number of women who will make the tougher choice.

If some of us do not have the strength to do that, we should at least support those who do.

Women heralding the winds of change in Pakistan

Women heralding the winds of change in Pakistan
by Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

10 April 2012


http://www.commongroundnews.org/article.php?id=31249&lan=en&sp=0

Karachi, Pakistan – From a country where terrorism, extremism, inner strife and polarisation continue to eat at its roots, good news is reaching out globally from a perhaps unexpected source – its women. Pakistani women are fighting for more than just the empowerment of women. They are taking centre-stage in Pakistan’s fight against oppression, social tyranny and extremism. They are the emblems of change, and Shad Begum is one such woman.
Photographs of Shad Begum standing alongside United States’ first lady Michelle Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her face resplendent with satisfaction, are a piece of much needed good news coming out of Pakistan. She is a recipient of the 2012 International Women of Courage Award, which is presented annually by the US Department of State to women around the world who demonstrate leadership, courage and sacrifice for others.

Shad Begum belongs to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province where the social system is strongly patriarchal and tribal sensibilities reign; unlike other provinces, Pakistan women there are not even allowed to work in the fields.

At the occasion of the 2012 International Women of Courage Awards, the US Department of State described Shad as “a courageous human rights activist and leader who has changed the political context for women in the extremely conservative district of Dir.”
The Association for Women’s Welfare (which later changed its name to Association for Behavior and Knowledge Transformation, or ABKT), set up by Shad in 1994, took up pioneering welfare work for women in the Dir district. Initially, ABKT focused on welfare, but increasing support from civil society and donors helped it focus on development and empowering individuals rather than only providing charity. Now, Shad mobilises and sensitises local women by helping them acquire primary education, political training and micro-credits to work towards empowerment and build their capacity. Providing health facilities, constructing bridges, installing hand pumps, creating wells and paving streets are all examples of ABKT’s development work.

Shad Begum decided to enter politics in 2001, only to face a head-on collision with local conservative leaders who strongly opposed the participation of women in leadership and the mixing of sexes. In an area with a population of one million, but only 150,000 women registered as voters, this was not easy. Shad stood as an independent candidate because no political party would support her.

She was the victim of character assassination and was called a “funded foreign agent”, in addition to receiving threats from the Taliban. Yet she carried on with her mission and people believed in her: she received the most votes of any female candidate. Four years later, as a result of her efforts, including an effective campaign that got the attention of authorities, 127 women were elected at the local level in the same area. “Men voted for women in the election. This is a big change”, said Begum.

Shad moved the organisation’s office to Peshawar when the Taliban became prominent, and she has been threatened by unidentified militants.

With women like Shad stepping up at the grassroots level, there have been major leaps in the present government’s tenure when it comes to legislation promoting women’s interests. Pressure from civil society and advocacy from women’s groups have forced policymakers to address women’s concerns. Legislation has been passed criminalising sexual harassment at the workplace, as well combatting gender discrimination. In addition, legislation regarding women’s rights to inherit and forced marriage have been promulgated.

In January 2012, the National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously passed a bill to create a powerful and influential National Commission on the Status of Women, a huge step in the right direction and one that is being lauded by human rights activists as a salient pro-women move. This bill came after years of struggle by women’s committees, consultations, relentless advocacy and 22 consensus amendments.

The impact of women like Shad Begum cannot be over-emphasised in this progress – these women are heralding the winds of change in Pakistan.

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* Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam is a freelance writer, journalist and blogger with a focus on human rights, gender and Islam. She blogs at chaaidaani.wordpress.com. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 10 April 2012, http://www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.