Today, 1st May is celebrated internationally as Labour Day. It is an annual holiday in many countries to celebrate the achievements of workers.
But today let us also take a moment to reflect on the role of women’s labour –both for production and reproduction.
Women have always contributed to the reproduction role in our civilization through the contribution of their bodies being used (and taken over really) for the purpose of growing and nurturing the pregnancy and then after delivery for breast feeding as well as child care and rearing.
So what is different from other animals you may ask?
Well nothing really, except that humans are clearly higher on the evolutionary scale and we like to believe that we are different/ superior/ more intelligent/ civilized and so on.We have been to the moon and back, we have created machines which would seem nothing short of magic if anyone from the 16th century wandered in, we have reached brilliant heights in art, music, dance, drama. We have sent out satellites and space ships to explore the great unknown.
So then why are women still saddled with an unequal burden of child rearing while men have the option of exploring different frontiers and can also continue to have a family and children ‘on the side’ so to speak, without any interference with the trajectory of their careers and lives ?
Women also contribute to labour and always have done so. In fact, during the two World Wars, it was women workers who kept the factories running, cities functioning, secret codes unravelling. At the time systems were set up which allowed women to contribute equally to labour while childcare and food production was looked after by the State. But what happened when the war was over??
Well, the gender war began again………
Quoting from http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/7027/
“During World War II, the defense industry expanded and American men mobilized for military service. Many women found jobs previously unavailable to them in aircraft plants, shipyards, manufacturing companies, and the chemical, rubber, and metals factories producing war materials. These jobs paid higher salaries than those traditionally categorized as “women’s work,” such as teaching, domestic service, clerical work, nursing, and library science. Married women were discouraged from working outside the home during the Depression to lower competition with men for limited jobs. After the U.S. entered the war, though, the Federal government encouraged housewives to join the work force as a patriotic duty. The number of employed women grew from 14 million in 1940 to 19 million in 1945, rising from 26 to 36 percent of the work force. Most industry analysts and government planners expected this situation to be temporary. At the end of the war, the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor asked women workers about their future work plans. The bulletin excerpted below revealed that most women wanted to keep their present jobs. Immediately after the war, the percentage of women who worked fell as factories converted to peacetime production and refused to rehire women. In the next few years, the service sector expanded and the number of women in the workforce—especially older married women—increased significantly, despite the dominant ideology of woman as homemaker and mother. The types of jobs available to these women, however, were once again limited to those traditionally deemed “women’s work.”
Across Asia, women farmers make up half the agricultural workforce. The mega cities in our part of the world are being built by women manual labourers working on building sites.
Women make up more than half the migrant labour workforce, sending precious foreign exchange back to the home countries.
White collar workers, doctors, firefighters, office workers, teachers, everywhere.
For this contribution to labour what do they get ?
They get paid less
They get less leisure time
and also have to bear the added burden of managing home and children.
Over the past few decades, women have been increasingly sharing the burden of labour outside the home.
It is time for men to move in and start sharing in the domestic unpaid and thankless labour also !