Any household has a long array of works that need to be taken care of on a daily basis. More often than not, in the context of Bangladesh, these works are carried out by female members of the family and that work is unpaid. Addressing this gender role with a view to involve more men in domestic works, a photography exhibition was held at Bangladesh Shilpakala Academy last week. Sazid Ahamed Dipto writes returning from the event
A HUGE segment of Bangladesh’s economy is based on the informal sector. Consider the works of a house-maker, from dawn to late at night looking after her family without any monetary appreciation. To recognise their labour and contribution to the society and on the overall economy as well to bring an effective change in this practice, Drik Gallery organised a photography exhibition titled ‘Different Images of Men’.
Action Aid, in association with Drik Gallery and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, launched the photography exhibition on unpaid care work. The inauguration program was held on November 2 at the National Art Gallery of Bangladeshi Shilpakala Academy.
The main aim of this exhibition is to encourage men to participate in unpaid care work and to create awareness on the recognition, reduction and redistribution of unpaid care work and demonstrating it as a labour in national GDP. The exhibition strives for behavioural change towards social stigma and gender stereotypes as each of the production will convey the message of bringing change.
Unpaid care work is usually a gendered phenomenon: a clear majority of uncompensated, unrecognised and undervalued care work which is often carried out by women. From cooking and cleaning to fetching water and firewood or taking care of children and the elderly persons, women carry out almost two and half times more unpaid household work than men.
When this unpaid work is carried out in own home, it is not reflected in national statistics or economic analysis, despite its relevance to our day to day life. Much of women’s domestic labour, while crucial to society, is not considered work and not paid, and also affects the time they have available for paid work. Those women who do work outside the home are more likely to be confined to underpaid and insecure jobs.
A number of factors affect this situation, including economic and labour policies, global corporate practices, availability of infrastructure, family dynamics and even climate change. The burdens of unpaid care works have some impacts on all women but the worst consequences are on the economically marginalised women.
The main objective of this event is to create awareness toward the role of men on the society. While living in a world of patriarchy, women frequently fail to get the admiration for their hard works and sacrifices. In accordance with Action Aid, women’s work is perceived less valuable than paid work and it is ignored and not considered to be ‘work’ even by the women. But women actually deserve more appreciation for their hard works and sacrifices.
The selected photos of the exhibition address issues of family relationships, class and shifting of gender roles in innovative ways to speak up to larger national topics of changing demography, care, migration and changing family structure of our society. The showcased images portray men physically engaged in looking after their family by providing care for the children, elderly and disabled.
Professor Meghna Guhathakurta, executive directors of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh, talked about the significance of the men’s contribution toward domestic work. Raising the number of men in domestic works will lead to a productive, sustainable and healthy society. By contributing in household work, men can change the prevalent social norms which impede women from becoming independent. If we make this happen by providing men for domestic work, women empowerment will no longer be a concern for Bangladesh.
As the event was going on, the winners of photography contest were announced. Salahuddin Ahmed won the grand prize; Farhana Akhter secured the 1st runner-up spot and Shah Newaz Shaikat received 2nd runner-up award. Along with them, seven photographers received honorary mention.
Salahuddin Ahmed excellently snapped some moments of a 19 years old boy Shishir while he was busy doing his unpaid household work. His photographs perfectly portrayed Shishir’s story who’s been doing unpaid care work since his mother became bed-ridden due to illness many years ago. He is shattering all the social taboos and gender stereotypes by doing such tasks. Instead of spending time in study and play ground, he spends time in caring his sick mother and six years old sister.
His daily routine of work comprises of purchasing her mother’s medicine and make her take it on time, taking her oxygen cylinder out for refilling, occasionally cooking for the family, taking his sister to school and picking her up after school. Shishir’s wholehearted effort has made us aware about the equal participation on unpaid home work. Shishir is a living example working behind breaking the taboo of so-called men’s work.
Farhana Akhter stunningly captured Rafiq Mia’s story. Rafiq Mia, 51, is a day-labourer helping his wife Sitara Begum by doing unpaid work because his wife has to work in seven houses as a maid. He says how much hard work can she endure? She is a human, not a machine. Rafiq tries to do all the morning chores, so that his wife can sleep a little longer. Even he performs all the unpaid work including cooking, washing dishes and clothes. Sitara shares that her husband has been assisting her with the household responsibilities since they got married.
Rafiq Mia can be used as a conspicuous yet extraordinary example in shaping economic stability with equal contribution of men and women. There should not be any specific category for women’s work in a household. For both men and women, household rather should be all about sharing responsibilities together and taking care of each other.
Shafi Newaz Shaikat expressed the story of his friend Topu and his wife by shooting some artful and meaningful photos. ‘I have been watching their beautiful collaboration and strength in sharing and performing household responsibilities. They keep helping each other almost in every situation’, said Shafi.
This is perceptible that domestic work should not be categorised according to gender. Rather cooperation within family members makes the bond stronger. If both men and women share their responsibility on domestic work, then it will have better consequences on economic growth of Bangladesh.
Sazid Ahamed Dipto is a student of Stamford University and an intern with New Age Youth
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