Men ready to assist wives in domestic chores, but …

Raw sewage

 The Kenya Time Use Report 2023 shows that unpaid work disproportionately disadvantages women. However, it is not impossible to change men’s attitude towards domestic work.

Photo credit: Kanyiri Wahito | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Mr Njoroge sees no problem with sharing domestic chores with his wife. But nature of his work does not allow him.
  • In the case of Nelson Koech, a resident of Narok County, domestic work is a no-go-zone.
  • In the case of Nelson Koech, a resident of Narok County, domestic work is a no-go-zone.

John Njoroge sees no problem with sharing domestic chores with his wife. But circumstances cannot allow him, he says.

Mr Njoroge is a pineapple hawker along Nairobi-Thika superhighway in the Ruiru area, Kiambu County.

He was brought up by his aunt, who had five sons and a daughter. They did everything together from cooking chapati to doing laundry, fetching firewood and cleaning the house, ona rotational basis.

“There is nothing wrong with washing clothes and hanging them in the sun to dry,” he explains from his open-air stall.

“It doesn’t make you less of a man. In fact, I love cooking and if I had the time, I would. But I wake up at 3am to go to the market and return home at 10.30am; surely, how can you expect me to cook?” he asks.

He goes on: “I have four children and a fifth one is on the way. If I start washing clothes for all of us, I’ll take a whole day, considering that I’ll be sitting on a stool, I can’t bend for long. I’d rather come to work, make Sh500 and give my wife to find someone to wash the clothes.”

Burn self

He is of the view that equal distribution of the unpaid care can only work for those in formal employment and who work from 8am to 4pm.

“I’d be doing that (share domestic chores equally) if I had that kind of work. But now with all the stress of looking for the children’s fees, I may burn myself in the process of cooking,” he states.

Mr Njoroge faults the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) survey that found that men spend only 54 minutes in unpaid care work daily, which includes cooking, washing clothes and taking care of the children. Yet, women take four and a half hours.

He argues that men “also get tired and they need time to rest. I may not be directly taking care of the children, but as long as I’m providing money to take care of them, is that not taking care of them?”

While Mr Njoroge has a point here, the difference lies in what he does. By providing money, it means he is working and this amounts to paid work. But he is not paid to look after the children, which is unpaid care.

Julius Ombae is a clinical officer in Migori County. He has three children and his wife is also a public servant.

In his view, the 54 minutes do not apply to all men in Kenya as there are also those who are single parents or widowed. And some, like him, do much more, he says.

Rural hospital

“I don’t live with my family, but when I visit, I often cook and take my three children to a fun park to allow my wife to rest. Is that really 54 minutes? But if that’s the case, surely, that’s too little,” he says.

“I work in a rural hospital and I see women going to the farm or market, carrying their babies on their backs, I guess in that case, men are not helping enough."

He says he pays the house help and to him, that is covering the unpaid work that he would otherwise do by himself.

He, however, says he can do any other chore but not washing clothes and cleaning utensils.

In the case of Nelson Koech, a resident of Narok County, domestic work is a no-go-zone.

Mr Koech laughs hard when I ask him if he could cook or bathe the children while his wife fetched water.

“Why should I do that? It’s an abomination for a man to sit on that stool in the kitchen to cook. That cannot happen,” he says.

“If she refuses to do her work, I’ll bring another wife or chase her away. I married her for that. Not me doing what she’s supposed to do.”

Well, it’s not impossible to change men’s attitude towards domestic work and unpaid care.

Rwanda case

In Rwanda, men are  going to the farm with their infants tied to their back, and they have no string of shame or regret.

It has, however, taken a step-by-step unlearning process.

At the launch of a report on State of the Worlds Fathers: Centring Care in a World in Crisis in Kigali, Rwanda on July 18, 2023, during the Women Deliver conference, Rwanda Men’s Resource Centre (Rwamrec) shared a video that left the audience glued to a huge projector screen before them.

The video showed a husband accompanying his pregnant wife to a prenatal clinic while holding her hand. After delivery, he cooks, feeds and baths the baby. He then wraps the baby on his back, carries a hoe and goes to the farm.

This was to show a transformation in men’s attitudes and perceptions towards caring for their partners and their children, a change Rwamrec’s Executive Director Fidele Rutayisire, said had a direct impact on reducing domestic violence.

“From our studies, men who do this (care for their partners and children) are less likely to abuse their wives,” he said.

The institution has worked with Care International in Rwanda and Promundo (now Equimundo) to establish a  training manual on engaging men to support empowerment of women.

Support wife

Mr Rutayisire said they are using the document to help men identify solutions to barriers preventing them from promoting women’s growth.

Back in Kenya, during the launch of the findings contained in the Kenya Time Use Report 2023, Economic Planning Principal Secretary James Muhatia, was categorical about the importance of the report.

He said it would inform policies intended at boosting women’s participation in socio-economic and political development.

“The report shows that unpaid work disproportionately disadvantages women and thus the need for increased efforts that are deliberate to reduce the unequal social, economic and political opportunities for women of this country,” he said.

But as Mr Njoroge says: “We don’t want people to sit in an office and just tell us that we do this and that.”

“Come sit with us and let us tell you how that can happen. I’m willing to support my wife, but how can I when I must be up at 3am, stand all day at work, and return home at 10.30pm?”