How Long Should Women Be The “Natural Caregivers”?
The physical task of caring for a baby or an elderly family member mostly falls on a woman’s shoulders. Wondered why? Simply because they are thought to be natural caregivers. However, this image of being the more nurturing one among the two genders comes at a cost. Many times, it is this role which ends up defining our existence. The society expects women to care for others, putting everything else on hold. Some reports suggest that women in the UK may have to pay for this designation of being the more caring ones.
According to The Telegraph, a dossier drawn up by ministers on the impact of Britain leaving the EU warns that growing number of people, “especially women”, could be forced to quit their jobs to give “informal care” to parents and grandparents.
It says that under the “worst case scenario”, women living in Britain would likely plug the hole of 6,000 fewer doctors, 12,000 fewer nurses and 28,000 fewer care staff within five years.
This projected loss of labour does sound alarming, but it’s utterly misogynist to force women into filling up the shoes of caregivers due to their gender. Should talented women abandon their professional lives or give up their personal space because the other gender simply shirks off its responsibility?
Eldercare is the responsibility of both genders
Even in India, the society expects a male child to take care of his parents in their old age. However, the physical act of caring falls not on the son but the daughter in law.
How many men leave their jobs or work from home, to be by their side? How many feed them with their hands or sit by their side and spend quality time with them.
- A dossier drawn by ministers in the UK on the impact of Brexit warns that many women may be forced to quit their jobs to give “informal care” to parents and grandparents.
- Even in India, where a male heir is hailed as the support in the old age the physical act of caring usually falls on their wives.
- Why do women have to pay the cost of the social image of being the natural caregivers? Isn’t eldercare a responsibility that must be shared by children of both genders.
No, because a man must go out to earn. He must bring home the bread. Besides, it isn’t a man’s job to care and nurse. This profile comes with a gender-based requirement. Hence as male progenies are “unable” to care for ailing elderlies, the society expects that the daughter-in-law of the house to be by their side.
I am not saying that women shouldn’t care for their in-laws. Neither am I endorsing the age-old patriarchal Indian belief that it is the duty of only sons to care for ailing parents. Every child must care for his or her old parents, irrespective of their gender. In fact, do it with dedication and love. However, I do question why does the society demand sacrifices exclusively from women?
Instead of demanding women to take the complete charge, siblings or couples must work out a system where no one has to make professional sacrifices. This is not possible unless employers and governments encourage the practice of combined care giving.
Just like we encourage paternity leave for men, we must also make efforts so that women don’t have to drop out of the workforce for this reason too.
But the important question is, do men want things to change? Are they willing to combine forces with wives or their sisters to care for their old parents? Or are they happy hiding behind patriarchy and commanding that their wives perform their gender-bound duty? I am sure many mature and liberal men would agree when I say that the physical act of caregiving is as important as the financial act. Much as you need to earn, you need to find time to be by your ailing parent’s side. And both these goals can be achieved if our society relieves women of the credentials of being the prime caregivers.
Picture Credits: UEA
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.