What Is Home Labor and What Are Women’s Experiences?

Playing house, cooking, cleaning, taking care of children or other kinds of physical or emotional labor is a short list of the activities that young women imitate from childhood, as they play games, because they think that this is what women generally do and what they will have to do in the future.

Childhood for Boys and Girls – Double Standards of Rising Children

On the other hand, the order implemented by the system does boys no good from childhood, and does not allow girls do devote their free time to the activities that are the most enjoyable for them. As a result of this, boys cannot even take care of themselves as adults, not to speak of taking care of their children or other members of the family. Nobody taught, or, forced them, as kids, how to make different kinds of soups, according to the taste of different members of the family. They don’t know the tricks to get the stains out of clothes and did not inherit secret recipes for family cakes from their grandma. Girls do the opposite, they try, from very early on, to perfect different components of their home labor skills and earn at least one grateful smile from their moms, after doing this kind of work. Perfecting these kinds of skills is not connected to gender. When you do the same kind of labor every day, or watch how others do it around you, you learn it too, or are force to learn and master it. This creates the sense of perfectionism in many women later, because they know exactly what must be done to do this or that job perfectly.

April Media/Natalia Avaliani

When you gain adult skills and come out of the age of waiting for praise as a kid, you realize that the distribution of labor at home oppresses girls from childhood, and allows boys grow up carefree.

In rare cases of when men try to understand the responsibilities, home labor on an individual level and share it with their partners, a part of them cannot manage to do the work. The reason is simple – they just do not know how to do what. In these instances, women have to “retrain” man and be their second parent, not a partner. The teaching process is hard and women often prefer to do men’s parts of equally divided work themselves. Because, they can do it better. Because it’s impossible to listen to men complain how they can’t use an iron correctly, calm down crying babies easily, or pick an after-shave lotion.

In these conditions, even a man rocking their child’s basinet, or performing labor connected to taking care of yourself, such as washing your mug, is considered heroic by the society.

It is not new that the patriarchal society constantly praises men for taking care of their families and children and being in their lives, even when they, let’s say, take the kids out for a walk once a week, even though they need to do this seven times. Women doing same type of work hundred times more is not even worth caring about. Mentioned work, when women do it, is not paid for, is invisible, not appreciated as full work, which an individual performs after using their skills and resources.

As a result, even taking care of themselves becomes a source of stress for women and they see this as a tiring process. For most women, it’s impossible to pick caring for their bodies when it comes to doing the laundry or washing their hair. If not them, who will do it? On the other hand, the patriarchy asks women that they always look impressive and appropriate, while there are no such demands for men. Caring for your appearance and home labor do not seem connected at the first glance, but they actually are intertwined. This will be easy to see after we look at the concept of time poverty.

When I need to leave for trainings or such, my husband starts working online, and takes care of children. But then, the whole house becomes a mess and I have to clean up.

Dr. Charlene Kalenkoski, who specializes in the matters of home labor and paid and unpaid work, offers us the term – time poverty. This stands for insufficient free time that a person has after performing unpaid labor and other physiological activities, such as sleeping and eating. This time can be used for creating social and human capital. For women, with the acute shortage of time, it becomes impossible to devote time for recreation and do activities that are pleasant for them.

Still, what is unpaid labor?

To define unpaid labor, we must first define what paid labor means. Paid is the labor that creates a specific service or a product, and to compensate for the resources spent while participating in creating which, a person gets paid by an employer.

So, any other kind of labor, which is not paid, is unpaid. Women do a tremendous amount of unpaid work.

In the instances of unpaid labor, the employee does not get the compensation equal to the resources spent, but has to spend the same amount, or even more resources than a paid employee.

Home labor, according to the Dictionary of Gender Terms, is an unequal distribution between the labor of individuals and the main form of discrimination against women, which means dividing labor according to sex and not appreciating women’s work. The term housewife is initially considered a synonym for unpaid labor and is the main component of differentiating labor and payment based on gender.

It will probably surprise no women, to refer to the data, according to which women spend 38.4 hours in a week on unpaid labor, while men only 11.5. This data is from a recent study carried out by the National Statistics Office of Georgia within the project by UN Women.

Research on using time shows that 97.2% of women are involved in home labor, and only 53.5% of men. Women devote 28.4 hours in a week to the mentioned work, and men – 8.5 hours.

All of this comes from where I was born and raised. My father did the work outside, and my mother did the work inside. My mother had the same approach towards us: she tried to did more.

“Women devote less time to general free time activities than men (averagely, women – 21.6 hours and men 28.3 hours overall in a week). But, compared to men, most women spend their free time doing other things too (78% of women and 73.3% of men). This leads us to think that most of women’s free time is taken up by the activities such as paying attention to their children while meeting their friends or walking in the park” – can be read in the research.

Types of home labor

Home labor is invisible, intertwined with everyday life, part of the routine. We can divide it relatively both as physical, but also, emotional and mental labor. Physical labor is more visible than emotional or mental labor. Physical labor includes washing, cleaning, grocery shopping, cooking, keeping the house in order all the time. Emotional labor means offering moral support to family members and relatives, maintaining good relationships with acquittances and neighbors. Emotional labor also means taking care of the emotional stability of family members, partners, and children, maintaining constant communication inside family and so on.

Physical labor is more acknowledged as labor, as the results of it can be seen immediately. After we do the dishes, clean dishes can be seen instantly, but taking care of family members emotionally does not give us physical, visible results. Therefore, it is harder for society to perceive it as labor, and often leads to criticism.

“Why are you tired?! You are home all day”

April Media talked to Irina, a mother of three children (the name is changed), who did not want to state her name publicly. She lives with her husband, but tells us that it is mostly her who has to do the work at home and take care of children, while her partner does it only sometimes. Even though the roles are divided unfairly, she says that society considers her husband a hero, when they learn that he participates in home labor once in a while.

“I clean the house, make food, do the dishes and the laundry. My husband is at work and brings home the groceries, which I ask for, or sometimes, according to his wish. Sometimes he will do the dishes, put the laundry up or take it down. He can also cook, if he’s home.

We have three children: 2, 6 and 8 year old girls. He takes them to the kindergarten and school and I am responsible for then bringing them home. I also mostly help them with their homework. I also help with their psychological stability and try to keep the relationship between the kids and their father healthy. I remind him to play with them, talk to them, ask them about their day, take them for a walk and so on. When I need to leave for trainings or such, my husband starts working online, and takes care of children. But then, the whole house becomes a mess and I have to clean up. They mostly tell me their everyday “dramas”, and I try that they share it with their father too. We also both read to them.

When people learn that he helps me, sometimes babysits and I go to trainings, or takes the kids to his job, takes them for a walk, reads to them, they think of him as a hero. This is normal for me”, – says Irina.

Women at home have to be cooks, cleaners, babysitters, economists, psychologists, teachers, drivers and many other things. With zero payment. When it comes to it, they ask you: why are you tired?! You are home all day.

It was so hard doing home labor and taking care of the kids and doing her professional work at the same time, Irina had to leave her job.

“I was gone for the whole day, from 7 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon and I was exhausted. Everything still had to be done at home. I had to leave the kids and I was worried. Because of this, I started a new job and now I work from home. But, this means that I still have to do everything at home and also run an online store, create content and communicate with customers. I mostly make the products at midnight, when everybody’s asleep and I do everything else during the day. Not sleeping and having to constantly be on the clock also affects my health.

It would be nice if somebody would help us out with home labor, even other adults who live there. In our case, from 8 people there are only three kids. Others are employed adults. We live with my husband’s family, with my mother-in-law, sister-in-law, and brother-in-law. Nobody cares about home labor. Even about buying groceries. And my husband, after all these years, has finally realized that we need to move”.

Irina tells us that she tried to avoid the pressure for the appearances of women and mothers as much as she can. She mentions that she has not changed anything in her look in a while, which might also be because like most mothers, while not having enough free time, always have to rush.

“I only dye my hair and that is because I’ve had white hairs from a young age. I don’t even want to do this, but society criticized me when I did not. I would like to have grey hair. I will probably get tired of dying it soon. I try to only do what I enjoy, and not what the society likes. The color of my hair, nails, or lips is only to express my character. But I have not changed anything in my appearance in a while”, – she says.

Irina thinks that the state should be involved and acknowledge the labor of women and mothers. She says that maternity leave and procedures connected to it are the most important in this. This is a painful topic for her, as because of pregnancy, she had to stop studying and also leave her job.

“Maternity leave should be extended. It should also be paid, during the whole time, not just once. They should not be asking if you plan to have more kids at work. This is discrimination, and they might choose someone else because of it.

Women at home have to be cooks, cleaners, babysitters, economists, psychologists, teachers, drivers and many other things. With zero payment. When it comes to it, they ask you: why are you tired?! You are home all day.

I had to stop studying for a year because I was pregnant. Then I had to leave my job because of the maternity leave. Now, because I want to have a bit of income, I have to have so much on my plate”, – says Irina.

Doubled Work Alongside Women’s Emancipation

Alongside women’s emancipation, women started working and getting paid in return of their labor. It seemed easy to rethink the roles of men as breadwinners and women as housewives and divide the labor at home individually. But, it did not turn out so. In most cases, after women finish their standard work day, they have their other jobs waiting for them at home.

This doubled work, which requires a huge amount of resources and makes it impossible to renew them, leaves women burnt out and far from from fulfilling their needs as it can be. Mentioned labor causes not only physical, but mental exhaustion, because even before women finish one kind of work, they are thinking about the second and the third, think of what they have to do in advance and then start to actually do it. Mothers, who not only do professional work, but take care of their children and families, get a special mention in this. They have to rush to kindergartens/schools on their breaks at work, or after they are finished. On the way home, they find out how the day went for the kids and try to give them emotional support. And after they get home, home labor, including cooking, helping kids with their homework, thinking of their fun and performing their bedtime rituals await for them. In this kind of a routine, it is almost impossible not to experience time poverty and think about relaxing.

It should also be mentioned that the period of holidays, which should be a time for resting and spending time with your loved ones, does not result into this for most women. Holidays become a source of stress instead, because women have to prepare traditional dishes, clean the house, take care of the kids 24 hours a day, as they are also on holidays and so on.

The more home labor women perform, the worse their mental health is – shows the meta-analysis of 19 studies, in which 70 310 people were involved globally and was published in September, 2022.

So, the doubled work done in the name of the emancipation, which makes women look established in the society and gets them praised, is a result of them using up their resources with no perspective of renewal.  This does not mean that emancipation is bad, it means that the labor should be visible and divided.

April Media/Natalia Avaliani

If you take up all the responsibilities to yourself, then it’s hard to stand aside. You have to do them, no matter what.

73-year-old Manana Charkviani grew up in a typical family – men were the breadwinners, and women were housewives. This continued after she got married. As Manana tells us, even though she worked in the electronic communications department for 50 years ever since she was 20, she was also a housewife. As a result, she had to do most of the work at home.

“I was born in Lechkhumi. We divided the work at home. When a guest would come, why should a man had done what women usually do? If girls had to set the table, boys would be asked to cut wood, or bring water. There was a lot to do at the village. But, it was not acceptable, for boys to join the girls in the kitchen.

After I got married, I had to do most of the work at home. There were things that my husband did, if something required going somewhere and taking care of it, that’s what he did, alongside his job. Cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, the family, that’s what I did. This was agreed on. I knew that this was my job in the family. If I asked my husband to do something, of course, he would do it. I liked to do things myself. I used to think that I would be able to do different jobs. If you take up all the responsibilities to yourself, then it’s hard to stand aside. You have to do them, no matter what”, – says Manana.

She connects this approach to the traditions and the way of being raised, as it was done the same way in her family. But, she says that if she was starting over, she would not support dividing home labor this way and would try for the division to be balanced and equal.

“All of this comes from where I was born and raised. My father did the work outside, and my mother did the work at home. My mother was the same way towards us: she tried to do more herself. It does not matter, where you come from. When you consider traditions, they grow into your life.

I preferred to involve my family members into home labor in a moderate way, because later, it would be easier them to live”, – remembers Manana Charkviani.

Charkviani also touched the topics of doubled work and time poverty and remembered the time of festivities at home. She thinks that it’s unfair that men are praised for the work that women usually do daily.

“When you have set the table and organized anything, you don’t really want any of it anymore. This was a problem. Even though my husband help me with preparing for the festivities, with bringing products, for example, I had to prepare them. Especially, when there are a lot of people in the family and you are expecting guests. This required hard work. Nobody could do the work at home and also fully take care of themselves, which is very bad.

I do not support the idea of men being praised for what women normally do. I did the house work, the laundry, cleaned, took care of the kids and take them for a walk. It is even nice to walk around. I would like to do it too, but sometimes there are instances, then you don’t even have time to take the kids outside”, – she says.

Acknowledging Invisible Labor on Individual and State Levels

According to the research carried out within the projects Women’s Economic Empowerment in the South Caucasus and Good Governance for Gender Equality in Georgia by UN Women, home responsibilities are strictly divided according to sex and women have to do most of the home labor. Perception of this is not very different between men and women. 94% of women say that doing the laundry is usually, or always their responsibility, and 89% of men approve, that this is done by their partners mostly or always. As for taking care of the children, this is also generally a woman’s job. Approximately 70% of women say that taking care of children is mostly or always their responsibility.

According to the mentioned research, unequal division of unpaid labor creates economic and social inequality within genders. For example, difference of gender in employment, horizontal and vertical segregations, and difference of gender in payment. Because of the weight of unpaid labor, women cannot participate in paid labor as much as men, and can also access jobs of higher quality less easily. The differences of gender in time spent on unpaid labor affect the differences on time spent on paid labor. Because of this, working half-time is more common in women than men.

There was a long period of time when I had trouble eating myself – whatever I made, I had to leave for my mother, and I was pretending to take care of myself by not eating it, because I did not have to make food every day.

If invisible labor is to become visible and paid, first of all, it should be qualified as labor on different levels. Acknowledging the work is necessary both on state and individual, family levels. Individual rethinking is prerequisite for cultural changes, and supports the rising of collective awareness. The discourse of individual acknowledgement has started in our country too, but limits only to activist circles and their surroundings. These people have more access to the information on the topic and the ability to think about it later.

On the other hand, state acknowledgment is the first step which will make invisible work legitimate and help politically relief the intensity of labor, which is practiced in more developed and resourceful countries.

State acknowledgement includes practical steps such as managing kindergartens, schools and other levels of education in a way, that partly takes away the physical and emotional labor from mothers.

Besides, it is necessary to empower women while participating in the job market and acknowledge hindering factors such as forced marriage of young women, interrupted work experience because of pregnancy, reinvesting in one’s self and regaining self-confidence after the maternity leave.

It is important to make parental leave a necessary practice, for both men and women. Men using parental leave is a subject of criticism to this day, but it actually is one of the best periods for men to understand what women go through after giving birth and how hard it is taking care of a newborn while doing house work. It is also important to have elderly care services and keeping well-maintained elderly homes, which will take away from women’s physical and emotional work and help them keep their necessary free time.

“I am the only one taking care of my mother”

Nina Baidauri never lived in a typical family. She is the only child of a single mother and was raised by her mother and grandmother.

“I always carried the cliché and the burden that my single mother had me so that I would take care of her in her old age. Even when she was not depended on me, my mother had a very fragile health and she became enchained to me very early on. On October 11, 2022, this ended in her having a stroke. Ever since, she is confined to bed. She is not able to speak and her consciousness is partly limited too. She has no one besides me and I have no one besides her. I am the only one taking care of her, in physical, financial and emotional ways,” – says Nina.

Nina used to work as a freelancer when her mother had a stroke. After this, she had to create and new routine and work according to it, because alongside taking care of other needs, it was financially impossible to hire a helper.

“In the first months, my friends helped me financially and this gave me a way not to give into the panic, create a new routine and work accordingly. I can work as a translator and a photographer and these professions allow me to take up projects from time to time. Now I have started working on a very serious, big book and I cannot manage to get into this routine. Translation requires a lot of concentration, being sucked into work. Every pause, forced or coming from procrastination, puts you back and complicates the job. It’s very hard for me to work.

My mother has progress, even if a very slow one. But this progress does not translate into me being more free or independent, but the opposite, requires more attention. I wake up in the morning, from 06:00 to 07:00 and it turns to 9 or 10 at night as I do the work at home and take care of her, not having done even a straight hour of my job. I have no energy at late night, and my brain does not work in the way that I can use those hours productively.

It is also the pressure of the surrounding environment, indirect, more internalized self-mortification. I am an only child, so I have to prove to her and to myself that I am not a bad child. I have to go against words said during arguments, such as, I hope god does not let me be within your mercy.

There was a long period of time when I had trouble eating myself – whatever I made, I had to leave for my mother, and I was pretending to take care of myself by not eating it, because I did not have to make food every day.

There where months before summer when I was studying. People told me it was crazy what I did and I was also surprised by how I managed to do this. Yes, it required a lot of energy and effort, but it was also a way of connecting to the outside world and not losing myself, see myself as more than a 24-hour-long caretaker”, – says Nina.

Nina describes how hard it is to find time, money, or energy for activities that interest her. She prefers using the mentioned resources for initially, taking care of her mother, and rare cases of her doing what is considered self-care, are followed by a long sense of guilt.

“Sometimes I force myself. For example, I started taking Vitamin D and Omega-3. I did not have any tests done, I did not have enough resources, or could not dare to use them for it. I decided to myself, and I think it was helpful. I try to exercise at home couple times a week, but sometimes I feel guilty for that too, because I could have used that time to translate. When I used to go to university, I was never rushing to dress or forgot to brush my hair. And this was a pleasant process. Now I do not leave the house often, but when I do, I get ready for it like I was going on an important date. To sum up, I’m trying to control myself. I have never failed and I’m not failing now. Sometimes I fall apart, especially during PMS, but what can I do? I don’t even fall bad about that anymore. In the first months, it was hard and was followed by guilting myself. I always worry about finances, constantly. But when you have never been rich, you are used to it.

There have been many moments when I did not want to shower so bad, I could cry. I know how it sounds, but I have actually forced myself to take a shower, or sometimes just stopped giving a shit.

Photography, walking around, meeting friends, having fun are practically out of my life, or is reduced to the minimal. I have gotten back to cinema, though. At night, when I realize that I cannot work anymore, but I’m not too sleepy, I devote that time to watching a movie and it makes me happy.

There was a long period of time when I had trouble eating myself – whatever I made, I had to leave for my mother, and I was pretending to take care of myself by not eating it, because I did not have to make food every day. And I could not let my mother eat junk food or frozen food. So, healthy food was for her and I basically ate trash. I don’t do that anymore”.

Nina says that her emotional burden is so hard, because she does not have anybody, who she can at least share the emotional responsibilities with, or agree on things with.

She talks about the necessity of acknowledging home labor on a state level, which, analyzing every specific case, should conclude what kind of work relief women need, based on individual needs of each family. In case of Nina and her mother, this would be elderly care. Nina brings our attention to a long, complicated bureaucratic procedures, the uselessness of the Stroke Rehabilitation Program and it not meeting the needs of the patients. After going through all of it, it would be ideal for her to be provided with a helper couple times a week.

“In my case or others, we need a system that will function on within an organized bio-psycho-social model, and rely on sensible principles of the individual needs of the beneficiary or their helper. Based on this, we will have alternatives to offer. This requires strong economy, stable, consistent social politics, time, smart, conscious minds, and hard-working people. So, I do not have a lot of hope. I mean, for here and now, for me, but I do hope that there will be something similar to it in my lifetime in this country. In the current state, all I can ask to get from the government, in case of me managing to getting through bureaucratic mazes, is a helper, two hours a day, two or three days a week”.