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How Men Like Me Benefit From The Unpaid Labour Of Women In Our Lives

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Men sit, laugh, talk and do what they please. Women make tea, cook food, serve dinner and clean up. This scene repeats itself multiple times, wherever I am.

The care is provided by women of the family. It doesn’t depend really on whether the men are working or on a holiday or retired or just visiting. It is startling to see how this inequality is normalised on a day-to-day basis. I twinge these days when I experience this.

If one starts to peel the layers of the care economy even more, one finds stark realities. I started doing that by tracing how patriarchy shapes my life.

Whenever I go out with my parents, usually my mom carries a bag/purse. Lately, I have started realising that whether we shop, buy groceries, or even water bottles, the burden of carrying these objects is put on my mother. That is because she carries a bag. And we, the men, don’t.

Unless the object is really heavy, the responsibility to carry it lies with my mother. My mother doesn’t hesitate in doing so. This practice was so normalised that even I participated in this process of letting my mother carry the small or medium-sized objects while I walked weight-free.

My grandmother cooks for me, folds my clothes, serves dinner, provides care when I am sick, ensures that the domestic worker does all her tasks, cleans utensils, washes clothes, cleans the house if the domestic worker (who is from a lower caste background) doesn’t come on particular days. If not for her and the domestic worker, I do not think I would have been able to manage my affairs on a day-to-day basis. I do not have to spare a thought about these things because of my privilege. I can sit in front of my laptop and ask for a glass of milk and I will get it.

Image Credit: Anindito Mukherjee/The India Today Group/Getty Images)

In my relationships, as a masculine cisgender man, I have had difficulties in showing care. But the onus of having to show care, affection, and love has been on my partner mainly. My partner has had to endure when I reacted to conflict situations by walking away. She had to put her feelings aside and care for me, while I could not do that in many situations. After a point, this pattern of my partner taking the responsibility of being the caring individual became normalised and was simply expected in many situations. Sometimes, at the back of my mind, I knew that my partner would call me back even if I hang up. Sometimes, this pattern did become abusive.

In my office, I have started counting who cleans the dining table after lunch every day. I have started seeing if men (including me) take up this responsibility – which we sometimes do. But who does it more? The men or the women? Time will tell, but my hunch is that women take this responsibility more.

I call this the care economy. Why? Because the entire economy that we live in runs on unpaid labour – and here I am only talking about labour of particular women. The labour provided in the examples I mentioned above are many small but significant ways in which women provide care without ever getting paid, without ever getting the tasks they do recognised as work.

Who pays for it? The organisation that you work for doesn’t, the government doesn’t, and the men don’t. I earn my salary and my mental and physical well-being is maintained by the care provided by many women in my lives (regardless of whether they are earning or not). It does seem imbalanced, unequal, and oppressive.

In fact, even if I pay for the care I receive (for example, if I try to quantify the work that my grandmother does and pay her for it and pay the domestic worker), it is assumed that the salary I get covers these expenses. But it does not. The salary is for the work I do in the organisation and for the organisation. Even if I assume that my salary covers these expenses, the organisation that I work for or the government doesn’t really provide a break-up of which part of my salary is for the care I receive at home and which part of it is for my work.

In fact, as hospitals, education, and many other ‘public systems’ get privatized, the burden on this unpaid labour increases. As Nancy Fraser asks, what remains of capitalism if one accounts for this unpaid care economy? Will capitalism survive if we start paying for this unpaid labour and put a value on it?

Regardless of the above question, men, like me, have the privilege of not questioning the status quo. Because I really do not have to pay for the unpaid labour. Because the labour of mothers, grandmothers, partners, and even domestic workers comes for free sometimes, out of ‘love’. This ‘love’ is actually political, unequal, and oppressive for the ones who love.

If men like me really want to be a feminist ally, we have to start quantifying this unpaid labour and pay for it when possible. This is to be done along with questioning the larger system which values only certain kinds of work as actual work that needs to be paid.

Men have to destabilise the status quo to be a feminist ally. One way to do this is to learn cooking and reshape the politics of the kitchen and dining space by taking up more responsibility. Not as a token gesture, but truly, as an ally. Question the masculinity of these spaces, make the men, and sometimes even the women of the family, twinge because they will see that there is a man trying to do supposedly womanly tasks. Question the practices of patriarchy. Learn how to care.

In the end, men like me can easily sit on their asses and continue to oppress. That is the status quo. But is that what we want?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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