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“Violence Against Women: another sermon for the Archbishop (FT 5/9/2020)


VAW: Another sermon for the Archbishop (FT 5/9/2020)

With Violence Against Women (VAW) dramatically escalating since COVID-19 struck, it was reassuring that the Catholic Archbishop Peter Loy Chong this week weighed into the fray (Fiji Times, 31 August 2020) on the side of the Fiji Women’s Crisis Center and Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, who have been battling for decades to reduce this social scourge in Fiji.

Archbishop Chong reminded his flock that “those using texts from the Bible [e.g. the Book of Ephesians] that require women to be submissive to their husbands need to understand that those were writings by apostles who [were] men and were influenced by their cultural and world views at that time… in an era when women were given in marriage as properties of their husbands”. The Archbishop reiterated that God made women and men in his image to be equal.

The Minister for Women (Mere Vuniwaqa) said the same by noting that “violence against women and girls including sexual offences was rooted in fender-based discrimination, social norms, cultural attitudes and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence”.

Vuniwaqa agreed that faith-based organizations were very powerful players in getting the message across and leading a national conversation to influence the public discourse on the root causes and contributing factors of violence against women and girls in Fiji.

Unfortunately, apart from the Catholic Church, leaders of other religious organizations are not prominently speaking up for gender equality even though they may also have the same if not worse cultural biases against women that the Archbishop referred to in Christianity.

But more importantly, few religious organizations are calling for any real action by men and boys, to practically address the root causes of gender inequality and stereotypes in Fiji which play out every day in every home, and which have long been identified by feminists (female and male) as the system of “patriarchy”.

Patriarchy is that oppressive system whereby women and girls are subjugated to men and boys in all the important arena in life: ownership and inheritance of wealth, involvement in paid work, remuneration for paid work, consumption of incomes, unpaid household work and in politics.

These are the fundamental causes of gender inequality and I would suggest that violence against women is a symptom of these inequalities.

Let me start this week with that most humble activity, the drudgery, that goes on day in day out in every household: unpaid household work.

[We can forget that annual tokenism when for one day out of 365 days (Mothers’ Day), women are placed centre stage, and even that because of crass commercialization].

I would humbly suggest that progressive religious leaders like Archbishop Chong could advance the course for gender equality far more successfully if their sermons called for men and boys to change in real ways, every day of the year, such as fairness in unpaid household work, rather than just repeating the rhetoric of gender equality.

There is some improvement taking place, as the statistics in this article shows, but far too slowly and far too little.

The Burden of Unpaid Household Labour

Few Fiji Times readers would know that in terms of hours spent, unpaid household work (by both males and females) amount to more by hours spent than paid work, and ought to be valued by national accounts amounting to a large part of Fiji’s GDP (at least 20%) if given their market values.

[Just multiply 100,000 full time housewives by a conservative value of $10,000 per annum and you get $1 billion of work done by women which is not recognized or included by GDP calculations].

This gender inequality can be seen most clearly if we just focus on Wage and Salary Earners (who I amalgamate into “Employees”) representing some 200 thousand workers out of the 316 thousand workers in the Fiji Labor Force in 2015-16. So I am leaving out full time housewives and several other categories of workers who do not do the full 40 hours of paid work.

These Employees (wage and salary earners), both male and female, do around the full 40 hour week in paid work, earning cash incomes, but when they go home, one group, very unfairly, does far more in Unpaid Household Work because of gender stereotypes, that “it is women’s work”.

These extra burdens in the household have not been changing significantly in recent times, despite all the publicity campaigns.

Graph 1 shows that over the twelve year period 2004-05 to 20115-16, Female Employees, in addition to their normal paid work earning income, worked an extra 24 hours per week in Unpaid Household Work, compared to only 10 hours per week by Male Employees, a large gap of 14 hours per week in 2015-16, only slightly less than in 2004-05.

Basically, what it means is that in addition to their paid work, females are having to do all that extra work in cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, child minding etc. in nearly all of which they do more than males on average.

The only activity in which males do slightly more unpaid household work is cleaning of compounds.

There are other graphs which I am not including here which shows that the gender stereotypes for unpaid household work begins early on for boys and girls, with similar gender inequalities. There is for instance a six hour gender gap for people aged 15 to 19, which has also remained constant from 2004-05 to 2015-16.

The Burden of Total Work per Week of Employees

When one adds to the Unpaid HH Work the Hours of Paid Work to obtain Total Hours Pw, then Graph 2 shows the typical extra work burden which is placed on working female employees.

The average Total Hours of Work (Paid and Unpaid) for Females rose from 61.2 hours per week in 2004-05 to 64.4 in 2010-11 and then dropped slightly to 63.7 hours in 2015-16.

It is interesting that Total Hours of Work for Males, while much lower than for females, also rose from 47.1 hours in 2004-05 to 53.0 hours in 2015-16. Deeper analysis is needed to explain this rise for both females and males.

The gender gap, though decreasingly slightly, is still large, declining from 14 hours per week in 2004-05 to 11 hours per week in 2015-16.

Does this extra work burden on women in any way contribute indirectly to  violence against women?

It is well known that gender violence against women is triggered by many factors such as alcohol abuse and the gender stereotypes in power relations whereby men feel that they have the authority to control the behavior and sexuality of the women and girls in their households.

But I would like to suggest that often men, who have deeply embedded gender stereotypes in their psyche, resort to physical violence when women, already unfairly burdened  by hours of work (as illustrated by Graph 2), justifiably assert their right to do the things they want to do in leisure etc. and fight back, as they have every right to do.

I suspect that men would be far less inclined to be physically or psychologically violent towards women if men engaged in more of the household work such as cooking, changing nappies, washing the clothes, cleaning the house, that they all can do.

Let us remember that females are doing more than their fair share of TOTAL WORK BY HOURS spent in paid and unpaid labor, around 53% of all work.

This 53% has remained pretty well unchanged for twelve years, according to the results of the Fiji Bureau of Statistics Employment and Unemployment Surveys (EUS) for 2004-05, 2010-11 and 2015-16, a twelve year period.

Over this twelve year period, the evidence indicates that there are small improvements taking place in women doing a slightly bigger share of paid work, as well as men doing a slightly bigger share of unpaid household work. But the gaps remain.

Can men do more Unpaid Household Work?

Having taught gender economics as an essential part of my USP microeconomics courses I have always tried to practice what I preach.

It was no big deal for me to throw ingredients together in the kitchen. It was no big deal for this dhobi’s son to throw dirty clothes in the washing machine and turn it on. And, however nauseating it always is at the beginning, it was no big deal to change babies’ nappies and look after them while one’s professional wife also pursued her career and her post graduate studies.

My three boys were often given two lessons: first, that the shortest route to their heart’s desire with their girlfriend was through their stomach, not their hearts; and second, that they should be bound to partners only because of love and not because their partners did the household work.  All my three boys learnt to cook from their teen years and their partners today are very lucky today to have husbands who take on more than a fair share of their household duties.

A few years ago, I helped the FWRM to develop a series of TV advertisements in which men and their sons did cooking and washing and drying clothes while the mother did her studies on a computer and the girls went out to play their sports.

It is a terrible pity that the FBS has had to postpone their 2020-21 EUS to next year, because this survey would have revealed how much success the FWRM TV advertisements had in encouraging men and boys to do more household work.

The 2020-21 EUS would have also revealed up to date and “real-time statistics” that the Minister for Economy has been calling for on the impact of COVID-19 on work and incomes throughout Fiji.

I would urge donors so see if they can find the $3 million dollars needed to enable the FBS to implement this survey sooner rather than later.

In any case, while TV ads come and go, as do calls for justice from NGOs like the FWCC (Shamima Ali) and FWRM (Nalini Singh) or even the Minister for Women, I suspect that far more influential are likely to be sermons by influential religious leaders like Archbishop Chong

What sermon by religious leaders?

Of course, it is positive that Archbishop Chong reminds his flock and Fiji that we should treat women and men equally as God really intended, regardless of incorrect literal interpretations of Biblical text written two thousand years ago in totally different cultural context.

But nothing really changes as a result of such a theoretical message, and men and boys repeating ad nauseam that they do believe in gender equality, does it?

I suspect that my friend the Archbishop would be far more effective in fostering gender equality if from his pulpit, he called on all men and boys to do their fair share of unpaid household work, especially when so many of them have been laid off work because of COVID-19.

While it may be a first for any Archbishop in the world, would not the Archbishop be listened to if he preached to the men and boys in his congregation: please do your fair share of cooking in the household; please do your fair share of washing clothes and hanging them out to dry, as you all can; please, look after your infants and change their nappies when needed.

Would not these messages be even more powerful for enhancing gender equality if all the other religious leaders from the Christian, Hindu and Muslim faiths added their voices to that of Archbishop Chong?

But this struggle for gender equality needs other men’s champions.

Fiji Times Warriors for Gender Equality?

In my work for the FWRM media campaign, I had suggested that they use sports stars as role models to induce change towards greater fairness in household work. Unfortunately, these sports heroes are no longer prominent in the media.

I could suggest that Fiji’s political leaders should show by example that they believe in gender equality in unpaid household work, although how many of them practice what they readily preach in parliament, is anyone’s guess.

But there may be more potential among the dozens of men writers of Letters to the Editor who daily show that they are battling for a fairer society where there is good transparent and accountable governance from their leaders.

Why not appeal to these men leaders to fight for greater fairness in gender sharing of household burdens?

I throw this challenge of being “Men Warriors for Gender Equality” to the following: Allen Lockington, Rajnesh Lingam, Selwa Nandan, Emosi Balei, Mohammed Imraz Janif, Wise Muavono, Sukha Singh, Arvind Mani, Kositatino Tikomaibolatagane, Alipate Tuberi, Nardeo Mishra, Edward Blakelock, Sharif Shah, Kiniviliame Keteca, Dan Urai, Simon Hazelman and the many others.

Some of them may have to cut back a wee bit on the time they spend consuming the brown liquid, which is another area of significant gender inequality in Fiji (another article).

I could also throw this challenge to frequent letter writer Rajen Naidu (my old friend from USP) and Opinion Writer Colin Deoki (another Marist compatriot) who, resident in Australia, are probably already practising gender equality in the household.

[My next article focuses on the deep and persisting gender inequalities in paid work.]

Arithmetic Exercise for Students in the Small Sacrifices by men that can lead to gender equality

If there are

100,000 female workers doing an average of 24 hours of unpaid household labour per week and there are

200,000 male workers doing an average of 10 hours of unpaid household labour per week

(a) what is the average unpaid household work for all workers   (show that the answer is 15 hours pw)

(b) how much extra hours per week would each male worker need to do in order to equalize the unpaid hh work for males and females (show that the surprising answer is only 5 pw)

(c) how much more free time per week would females thereby get? (show that the answer is a much larger 9 hours pw)

The average person may be quite surprised at the answers.

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