A woman's place

PERSPECTIVE - Cherry Piquero Ballescas - The Freeman

An International Monetary Fund report discussed the low rate of labor force participation among Japanese women. Despite their high level of education, Japanese women were shown to have the lowest labor force participation among the OECD nations, according to the 2012 IMF report. If more Japanese women worked, the IMF paper reported that the GDP of Japan would increase.

The IMF report entitled "Can Japanese Women Save Japan?" presented policies to encourage more participation of Japanese women in the labor force. Some of the suggestions encouraged gender equality or better work-life balance especially in favor of women.

A domestic survey noted that many Japanese women would like to work but do not do it because of various reasons such as they have to stay home to take care of the children and the elderly giving way to the Japanese women's work pattern as M-shaped – they work when they are single, quit work when they have children, resume work when the children are grown up, and again, quit work when they are older or when they have to take care of their elderly.

Japanese women at work also cannot take long leaves because of the real possibility that their jobs will not be waiting for them when they return to work. Their wages are lower than men, they have less regular work than men.

In contrast, Japanese men stay longer at work (they spend longer working hours than their counterparts in other OECD nations), spend the shortest time for child care and household work (compared to many OECD countries), have more regular jobs and higher pay than Japanese women.

The men are allowed paternity leaves but very few actually do so because of pressure from peers and hesitation to leave their work behind because they may bother their other co-workers who may have to take over their work during their absence.

Like many women elsewhere in the world, the Japanese women often stay home, outside of the formal labor force. Home is the woman's kingdom, many will affirm. As one recent FB post noted, a husband when asked what his wife's work was, answered, "Oh, she just stays home." A typical answer all over the world. The wife just stays home. She is just a mere housewife.

What does a woman do at home?

She is on call to breastfeed her infant, wakes up early to prepare food for the rest of the family members, takes care of the laundry, goes out to shop for food and other essentials for the rest of the family, cleans the house, and so on. If there are elderly in the household, expect the woman to take care of them as well.

The man works outside the home, often on an eight-hour schedule with overtime work now and then. He is paid for his work, he gets so tired with his work, when he comes home, he expects his wife to take care of all his needs because he is the principal breadwinner, he will say.

A woman's housework is never just an eight-hour work. She is on call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the whole year. Her round-the-clock activities are not considered "work." Her husband will say she has no work, she is merely a housewife. Her whole day work, her overtime work, is not paid. Why, because she just stays home.

There are men who pay for commercial sex but husbands never pay their wives for sex. Some just leave and find other women when their wives refuse to have sex with them. Or some use violence, forcing their wives to have sex, some even at knife point.

Man's work is considered productive work. Woman's work is merely reproductive work. This world rewards and prioritizes productive work that fuels the economy that creates wealth for a few and poverty for the many. The present economy ignores the importance of reproductive work for the sustenance of homes, communities, and societies. Only productive work that generates income, profits, and sustain the economies is considered important enough to be paid, to be rewarded.

The term economy, oikonomia, also spelled oikonomeia, economia literally means "household management," the prefix oikos derived from the ancient Greek word equivalent of a household, house, or family.

The present continuing economy prioritizes the world outside the home, unlike in the past where the home and family were considered the basic unit of society. When work is done to maintain that home, to maintain and sustain the basic unit of society, why is this type of work not adequately acknowledged and compensated?

Why can't women who stay at home and do work for everyone else at home not properly rewarded? Why the condescending view that women just stay at home and do nothing?

Doing work for children and for men and for the elderly is not work? Why then do we pay for nannies and househelpers, why pay for caregivers to take care of the elderly and in contrast, not pay most housewives who are doing those unpaid work daily, valiantly?


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