Men and unpaid care work

How can men help to lift the burden on women and take on their fair share of unpaid care work?

Recognising the unequal burden of unpaid care work is vital, but it’s not enough to transform women’s rights. To empower women, their families and communities we need to reduce the time women spend on unpaid care work and redistribute it. That means that male relatives, particularly husbands, start to shoulder some of the burden.

Learning aims

Completing this module will give you an understanding of:

  • How men like Alhassan and Anapogbila have come to change their views on unpaid care work
  • How making men’s unpaid care work more visible can help to catalyse change in social norms
  • How to encourage men to take on unpaid care work.

Dulali Begum, an agribusiness entrepreneur, with her husband, Taleb Mia in Purbo Udakhali village, Bangladesh. Photo: Md. Deloar Hossain/ActionAid

Supporting men to change their views on unpaid care work

In Bangladesh, POWER worked with men to help them understand the unpaid care work that the women in their lives are doing, and how it holds back them, their families, and even their community.

Thanks to sensitisation work on unpaid care, male community members have become more aware of women’s roles and contribution to the family. They are much more supportive of their spouses and try to help them by taking on some of the unpaid care work such as washing, cooking, collecting firewood and water.

Changing behaviour is vital. Sometimes, we need to tackle the deeper beliefs and attitudes before behaviour can change.

Approaches used within POWER include:

  • REFLECT circles: bringing communities together to learn, share and change collectively
  • Sensitisation: educating men about the impact of unpaid care work, and how they can make a difference in their own households
  • Women’s group trainings: education and support sessions in an atmosphere of solidarity and sisterhood
  • Sustainable Agriculture training: education in how to adopt Sustainable Agriculture

Alhassan’s story

Meet Alhassan. He’s shown how men can take on unpaid care work.

“I consider my involvement in household chores as part of my responsibilities and not a favour to my wives” says Alhassan, 35.

By taking on unpaid care work, Alhassan has seen how life has become easier for his wives and the whole family has benefitted. Alhassan is a subsistence farmer in Ghana. He lives with his two wives and seven children in Madina.

“I am glad that ActionAid and SONGTABA under the FLOW Project opened a REFLECT circle which created an opportunity for women and community members to learn and apply REFLECT to discuss and understand their issues,” says Alhassan.

“With discussions through the REFLECT circle meetings, the myth has been broken and it has become normal for men to do some of the household activities to support their wives. I learned a lot listening to some of their discussions regarding women’s workload, I had a second thought and decided to start helping them in some of the workload. For example, I have fully taken over the fetching of firewood for them.

“Traditionally, society sees collecting firewood or water to be strictly for women. It was an abomination for men to do these types of household chores.”

“Our discussion about women’s workload made me deeply reflect on their situation and I have made up my mind to take up some of their daily activities in order to free up some time for them to also engage in productive activities that would support them economically.

“I realised they usually become so tired after walking long distances and spending over seven hours on a daily basis collecting fuel wood whilst I sometimes had virtually nothing to do. Fuel wood has become scarce and very difficult to get. Since I offloaded this burden from them, the women are so happy. Now I see happy faces in my family as they converse a lot among themselves.”

Anapogbila’s story

“My name is Anapogbila Baba. I am 40 years old and from Dapore. I am married with three children aged 20, 13 and 2.

“As women smallholder farmers, we faced various challenges in our farming activities and in our families, but we didn’t know how to come together to address issues confronting us”.

“We simply kept brooding over our woes and blaming nature as our problems increased. We didn’t know what to do to get out of this undesirable situation.

“The FLOW project, introduced to us by ActionAid Ghana and BONATADU has mobilised us and continues to support us to hold meetings regularly. We now hold meetings in this community at least twice a month. We are working in unity and harmony among each other in the group and the community as a whole.

“The FLOW project has enlightened us. We never knew that boys could do certain activities without intimidation from the community. Previously, when a boy was seen doing household chores, he was labelled ‘poanindoa’ which means ‘a female man’.

“Society has assigned most of the unpaid care work to females while the males are more engaged in schooling or productive activities that give them income. This trend has made us women poor.

“With awareness from the FLOW project, many people in the community have become aware of the heavy workload on women and appreciate the need to support us in some of the household chores”.

“Now the boys have started taking up some of the unpaid care work such as collecting firewood, water and some other household chores. Recently, my husband bathes the children, sweeps the compound and even washes children’s dresses on the weekends. This is really surprising because in this community, these things were never done by men.

“Also, we feared to go to the assemblyman or the chiefs, but through our confidence building in the REFLECT circle, we now easily go to these opinion leaders without fear. For instance, when we needed land to cultivate corn on our group farm, we went to the chief, had a dialogue with him and he allocated 10 acres of land to us. When animals grazed on our corn, we even had the confidence to go to the chief who summoned the owners and warned them to peg their animals.

“In the past, we as women would not have known what to do to stop the animals but we discussed the issue in the REFLECT circle and identified a workable solution to it”.

“Our group, which is made up of 36 members, has just finished harvesting our corn, which we are yet to thresh but I am sure we will get not less than 20 maxi bags from the farm. Also, through FLOW, I was given two goats to rear. All of us who benefit from the small ruminants were trained in animal management. We are applying these methods to make sure that our animals are healthy and productive. My animals have been vaccinated and through me, other community members got the opportunity to also vaccinate their animals.”

Making men’s unpaid care work visible

It’s not enough for men to take on unpaid care work at home. Their community needs to see the change, too.

Whether it’s Alhassan carrying firewood through his village on a motorcycle, or a photo exhibition showing men feeding their children, it’s important that the whole community can see these changing gender norms.

POWER explored a variety of ways to make new ways of behaviour visible. These include:

  • Cooking competitions, to encourage and celebrate men who cook
  • Use of time diaries to show who is doing unpaid care work
  • Traditional leaders educating their communities.

Dig deeper

Watch our Reflect Circle video to see how we used the approach to empower women living in Bihar, India. 

Learning action

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Men and unpaid care work
Simply being given information about women’s unpaid care work is unlikely to change men’s beliefs.

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