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“Domestic violence, FBS data and the marriage racket” (FT 11/1/2020)


Domestic violence, FBS data and the marriage racket (FT 11/1/2020)

Despite the valiant efforts of Shamima Ali (and her Womens Crisis Center ) and Nalini Singh (Fiji Women’s Rights Movement), domestic violence continues unabated in Fiji, with no evidence of any significant reduction over time.

While grand strategic plans are formulated by those in authority (see FT article of 9/1/2020 “Ministry’s Plan of Action”, p. 4)), I suggest that one possible societal cause may be addressed through the lens of employment and unpaid household work data from the 2015-16 Employment and Unemployment Survey (EUS).

These latest results are very similar to the statistics I had produced six years ago in my unpublished 2013 report for FBS and AusAID, Fiji Women and Men at Work and Leisure, suggesting that there is very little progress in reducing the unfair burdens on working women.

Part of this problem may be due to the way “traditional marriage” is most often practiced and preached, often resulting in a grossly unequal and unfair partnership between working men and working women– what I call the “marriage racket”, which drives some women and some men to breaking point and domestic violence.

You might indeed wonder how domestic violence, FBS employment data and “marriage” could be even vaguely related, but many working women, at all levels of society, will empathize with what I write here.

FBS employment data

Every five years or so, the FBS conducts a solid sample survey of some five thousand households throughout Fiji, analyzing how men, women and children are employed, not just in paid activities, but also in unpaid labor in family work and household work.

These are treasure troves of useful data, full of wonderful stories and policy implications if only the analyst is able to see the forest and not just the trees (or masses of numbers and tables).

The first two surveys (in 2004-05 and 2010-11) were analyzed by me while the 2010-15 EUS has been analyzed by ILO and FBS staff.

This last FBS/ILO Report (published 2018) has many tables on formal and informal sector employment and unemployment but surprisingly no data on unpaid household work even though in terms of actual total time spent, it amounts to as much if not more than that total spent on paid activities.

But an earlier Preliminary Release (FBoS Release No. 34, 2017) did have two tables of statistics on household work which were similar to my results based on the 2010-11 EUS.

This FBS/ILO Report on the 2015-16 EUS defines the “employed” as those engaged in any activity to produce goods or services “for pay or profit”.

It implicitly also continues the myth that the “economically active” in society does not include those (mostly women) engaged in unpaid household work- a myth and statistical classification that gender activists have been struggling to change for decades.

Nevertheless, the statistics are extremely clear that with females now even exceeding males in the education fields, a much higher percentage of females are choosing to go into formal paid employment than previously.

My rough estimations indicate that between 2004-05 and 2015-16, there was a total increase of around 18,195 wages and salaried persons, but of these, only 2,869 positions were taken up by males, while 15,325 were taken up by females.

There appears to have been a decline of some 10,000 male wage earners in this period, while the increase in salaried persons was about 12,000 for both males and females.

The bottom line is that more and more females have been joining the workforce in paid employment, even if on average, female workers work about 34 hours per week, some 4 hours per week less than males who have an average of 38 hours per week.

But this deficiency for females is more than made up when we take account of the unpaid household work done by working women (I do not refer to full-time “housewives”).

The household work analysis below refers to some 131 thousand wages and salaried men and 68 thousand wages and salaried women in Fiji in 2015-16.

Unpaid household work

The 2015-EUS results given out by the FBS in their Preliminary Release indicate that male wages and salaried persons only do 10 hours of unpaid household work per week on average, compared to 24 hours done by female wages and salaried persons, a gap of 14 hours.

unpaid hh labor

So taking paid work and unpaid household work together, on average female wages and salaried persons do to 58 hours of work in total per week compared to 48 hours done by males, or ten hours extra.

This must place a heavier burden on female wages and salaried persons, who not only go off to earn cash during the day, but come back home to the bulk of the cooking, cleaning, washing clothes and minding children.

Were they told this when they got married?

The traditional marriage

We all know of the great joy in the heart of every bride at the marriage celebrations, when she is the beautiful queen of the celebrations, with the groom vowing his eternal love, devotion and protection.

Virtually all religions see marriage as a sacred contract between men and women blessed by their god, except that the brides are then expected to fulfil their traditional roles of looking after the household and children.

Not only priests but the public at large and social leaders (even women) also see the gender division of labor, even between working men and working women, as the “norm” to be followed.

I reiterate that many women do not have any problems with this division of labor. But increasingly, many women who seek a fuller life for themselves equally with men, do become unhappy.

The marriage racket

Objectively, it is difficult to deny that the inequalities of household work sharing can also be described as a “racket” historically perpetrated by nearly all societies dominated by men.

No priest or pundit at the wedding ceremony will remind her that in the process of bearing children she will “lost shape” and perhaps even become less attractive to her husband, some of whom will become increasingly scarce from home, with friends at the kava gang or the social club or playing sports.

Almost certainly there will be no mention during the wedding ceremonies that if the bride is a working woman, she will still be expected to still get up in the morning and prepare breakfast for the family, go home from work and prepare the evening meals, wash and hang the clothes out for drying then iron them later, and clean the house.

But she knows that when she has her babies, she will be the one who has to take leave from work for several years because she is expected to be the primary carer for the babies, even if she loses out  in seniority and salary increases at her place of employment (one cause of gender inequalities in income, lessened by “paternity leave”).

No one reminds her that in a marriage between a working woman and a working man, there will be an unequal sharing of the household work, and that in this marital partnership she will not only be earning her cash income, but also doing fourteen hours extra in household work per week compared to her partner.

Inevitably, she will have less time for her own physical activities (to bring her back to her original slim shape) or leisure activities involving hobbies etc.

It can be no surprise that the woman’s extra hours of household drudgery will also give her ample brooding time and keen scientific observations to “nag” her husband when he does return home and expect to enjoy food, drink, conjugal rights and sleep.

Note that the term “nag” is also a gender stereotype akin to women “gossiping” while men “share information”.

It is only natural that the modern women today expects their men to become more progressive.

Men naturally resist

It is not difficult to understand that most men would like the status quo to continue and will resist any attempt by their women for a fairer burden for them, especially when the only way that can happen is for men to do more household work and cut back on their leisure activities.

Most working women will attest that their attempts to obtain a fairer deal from their partners is usually not welcomed, and sometimes ends in domestic violence against them, in abuse or physical punishment, often by drunk partners.

It is not uncommon for such violent  men to even blame the brave feminist leaders of our society like those at Women’s Crisis Center and Fiji Women’s Rights Association, as the root causes of their wives’ demands for increased equality in the home, and not their own selfish behavior.

Experts point to the unequal “patriarchy” relations in society whereby men (fathers, husbands, brothers and even sons) have historically felt that women in their households must be subservient to their needs and “know their place in the home”.

That deeply ingrained attitude may have been understandable for the thousands of years when men and women accepted the typical “division of labor” whereby men when out and hunted and gathered, while women looked after the home duties and produced children.

But increasingly in today’s modern Fiji, and among all ethnic groups, that traditional division of labor is changing and in the interests of fairness, surely men and boys must also change and the lead must be taken by the leaders of society.

It can be different

While Government Ministers like nothing better than grand Plans of Action which can be spouted at the international meetings, how many of them demand that change must occur at the level of every working man in a household with working women and even among their male colleagues?

How many men government ministers, or corporate leaders, or accountants or engineers or lawyers or plumbers or rugby and soccer players try to be gender-neutral role models for their sons, by doing their fair share of household work?

I can personally attest that it is not difficult for every working male do ten hours of cooking per week; wash, dry and iron his own clothes (perhaps easy for this dhobi’s son), mind the babies (and even grandchildren these days), not forgetting the hours spent in very satisfying gardening.

Sons can also be taught the two vital lessons for later marriage: the easiest path to what they most desire is through the girl’s stomach; and if relationships fail, then they should be independent enough to walk way and not stay because they are being looked after hook, line and sinker.

The data does indicate that some improvements have taken place with men doing more household work in 2015-16 compared to 2004-05 (perhaps as much as 20% more), but the FBS 2015-16 numbers are rounded off to whole numbers, making accurate comparisons difficult.

Without doubt however, the FBS statistic of Fiji’s working women doing an average of fourteen hours extra per week would easily shrivel away if all working men and boys did their fair share of household work.

Fiji might even see some reduction in domestic violence and slimmer mothers.


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