Housework inequality is costing us more than we imagine
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Housework inequality is costing us more than we imagine

Good news, ladies: just 30 more years until men pick up their game and do as much housework as us. That’s according to data from the annual University of Melbourne and Melbourne Institute’s HILDA survey of 17,000 Australians, released this week.

The first step to a fairer world (apart from men grabbing a tea towel and pitching in a little more often) is to teach our children that housework is a team effort.

The first step to a fairer world (apart from men grabbing a tea towel and pitching in a little more often) is to teach our children that housework is a team effort.

Photo: Shutterstock

Women are doing, on average, seven more hours of housework a week than men. If you’re a heterosexual married woman with children, you’re likely to spend up to 30 hours a week on chores.

So how do we fix this domestic inequality? Is it about insisting men do more? Do we need to see more blokes in Ajax commercials stressing about the in-laws dropping by unexpectedly? Partly. But perhaps more pertinently, we need to look at the messages we’re sending our children.

At times, I’ve found myself enlisting my five-year-old daughter to help with chores, because it’s just easier that way. Fortunately, she’s a rebel girl and resists it. The hard truth is that it’s common for parents to place unconscious expectations on girls to do more than their fair share.

Of course this isn’t the case for every household. There are plenty of men who do an equal amount, if not more, around the house. But we cannot ignore these statistics.

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A University of Melbourne study of 10,000 primary school children released in May revealed that the gender pay gap starts at home with pocket money. Girls were, across the board, paid less than their brothers, and were much more likely to not be paid at all.

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And last year, Plan International Australia surveyed 2000 girls and young women in Australia aged 10 to 25 about inequality for our Dream Gap report. Two-thirds of the 10- to 17-year-olds (63 per cent) said they did more housework than their brothers. This sense of inequality grew as girls entered adulthood. Three quarters of the young women aged 18 to 25 reported doing more at home than the men in their lives.

We cannot ignore these statistics. When you step back and look at the global picture, it’s a silent and massive burden felt most profoundly by one gender. Collectively, girls aged five to 14 years old spend 550 million hours every day on household chores. That’s 160 million more hours than their brothers. This is hard work that is neither recognised nor paid.

Housework inequality is even more intensely felt in the developing nations where Plan International works. In South Sudan, Papua New Guinea, Malawi and Bangladesh it’s common for young girls to be removed from school early to marry, produce children and live out the rest of their days carrying out household duties.

These girls are robbed of their potential by being denied an education and the right to choose their own destiny. And, sadly, this inequality is closely linked to gendered violence, most often carried out by a partner, for many years, behind closed doors.

Even here in Australia, gender inequality in the home exists and it contributes to a culture of disrespect for women, which we know is part of the reason violence against women continues to occur at an alarming rate.

The good news is most Australians – men and women – really do care about equality.

The first steps to a fairer world (apart from men grabbing a tea towel and pitching in a little more often) are to teach our children that housework is a team effort, to pay our kids the same amount for the same work, and to remind each other – always – that housework is not and never should be “a woman’s job”.

Susanne Legena is chief executive officer of Plan International Australia.