Why we should teach each other 'handy' skills during pandemic

Boys could learn skills such as cooking in lockdown, while girls learn practical skills, says Colette Sheridan
Why we should teach each other 'handy' skills during pandemic

GENDER STEREOTYPE? We need to move away from old-fashioned views on cooking and DIY, says Colette Sheridan

WE keep being told about how the pandemic is setting women back to a time of 1950s values, when women did all the domestic work and barely peeked beyond the white picket fence trapping them at home.

Their role, in relation to men, was supportive as distinct from anything aspiring to be equal.

We really don’t want to go back there. Apart from the injustice of the old ways of dividing labour, being stuck in the house with children and a long list of chores to do is not good for mental health.

Unless you’re one of those highly domesticated women who thrive in the home, baking, cleaning — and teaching children if you don’t mind — most of us want some freedom from drudgery.

However, Covid -19 is not just playing havoc with physical health. It is also causing damage to women in work, with the rise in unemployment among women greater than that for men.

The PwC Women in Work Index warns that Covid-19 is causing a ‘shecession’ with progress for women in work back at 2017 levels.

To rectify the damage caused by the pandemic to women in work, even by 2030, progress towards gender equality needs to happen twice as fast as its historical rate, points out Emma Scott, people leader at PwC Ireland.

While the negative impact of the pandemic is being felt by everyone in the world, it is concerning that women are leaving the workforce at a faster rate than men.

It boils down to the inescapable fact that women carry a heavier burden than men when it comes to unpaid care and domestic work. This has increased during the pandemic. It has reduced women’s time and options to earn money.

Women have been hit hard in the food and accommodation services and retail work, areas in which they dominate. With lockdowns, these sectors have experienced massive job losses.

While we’re all caught up in trying to survive the pandemic, with women generally suffering more than men, it might be time to spread a little equality in the home, rearing boys to do the things normally relegated to females.

Before the pandemic, women on average spent six hours more than men on unpaid childcare every week, according to research by UN Women, The United Nations body for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

During this awful time, women have taken on even more of this work, spending 7.7 more hours per week than men.

What is called this ‘second shift’ equates to 31.5 hours per week —nearly as much as an extra full-time job. If this continues, it will result in more women leaving the workforce permanently, reversing hard-won progress towards gender equality and reducing productivity in the economy.

We can’t afford it. And it’s just not fair.

There is now a citizens’ assembly looking at the issue of care. The director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, Orla O’Connor, has said: “We want to see the Government have a referendum on care, to recognise the value of care in the Constitution. But we also need to see a real investment in public services, in public childcare and in public universal social care services. Because unless that happens, women will never reach equality.”

Orla, witnessing women struggling with care issues at home, has said that men need to take on the caring roles to a much greater extent.

With families being a lot more housebound than usual, why not use the time to show boys how to do chores such as cleaning the bathroom and cooking dinner?

if that sounds like a recipe for conflict, you could reward them with downtime to watch films/play with their phones. You could also inculcate them with a bit of feminist thinking.

Seriously? Yes. Tell them girls will appreciate it. That just might work.

And while I’m at it, wouldn’t it be a good idea for the man of the house to impart some of his practical skills to any girls at home?

While I can immediately think of two female friends that are skilled in the traditionally male domains of plumbing and electrics, many of us are useless when it comes to changing a tyre or even a light bulb.

I have some new garden furniture (all boxed up in the kitchen) waiting to be assembled by one of the men I regularly call on to do manual chores. I’m a disgrace to the sisterhood, with a number of ‘handy men’ on speed dial. Where would I be without these guys? Not to mention my IT man.

I should put my money where my mouth is and actually learn how to be handy. It would take great patience to guide me. Any takers? I could teach a willing guy how to make pastry in exchange for basic electrics. Only the skilled may apply!


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