Family, society, and culture try to define how I should act as an “ideal or good woman,” but I learned in my socialisation journey what my “real work” needs to be – to redefine my gender role as a woman (meye/nari/romoni) . Work, by definition, does not belong to a specific gender or group. From a sociological perspective, “work” is anything that a person undertakes with a goal of being productive in a way that meets human needs. Work includes mental and/or physical exertion but does not always have to include an exchange of money.
However, the perception and value of work is social, cultural, and even political. In my socio-cultural context, “work” has been perceived and valued through the division of labour by gender . Work that earns money (a tangible outcome) and is mostly performed in public spaces, became valued and considered “real work.” This “real work” is mostly performed by men and gives them access and control over resources – and often control over women.
We learn this perception and value of work from family every day. As an adolescent – I started to learn that my “actual work” should be at home in the private sphere, even if I have an official job in the public sphere. Thus, learning household chores was mandatory and an indicator of growing up as a “good woman.” Even most contemporary young women with whom I studied at school and college, only dreamt of becoming a primary school teacher since that is considered a “suitable” job for a woman: teachers can earn an income and still have time to manage household work at the same time. No one ever taught us that household work should be shared and performed by boys, men, and by all family members – it is not only a job for girls or women!
Only now, later in life, can I connect the dots to see that those conversations represented discriminatory practices from patriarchal social norms which we learned systematically from society and culture through the family, as a unit of learning in the socialisation process. And those discriminatory ideologies are broken systems that we must change at the source of that learning – the family.
Patriarchal social norms and gender division of labour create unequal power relations that make certain work invisible (reproductive work, for example) and strengthen the devaluation of specific groups’ (mostly women’s) contribution at the household level. It is also necessary to recognize that changing such gender and social norms is not an “overnight change game” as this is a centuries-old practice and deeply rooted in our mindset, our mental models, and to change them takes deep and persistent reflection and a new vision about the future.
During the recent pandemic there were many rapid surveys and a lot of research conducted on women’s work burden. Due to the lockdowns, many people were staying and working from home, and that created a sudden increase of household work for women, as they are considered to be primarily responsible for household work, which is not the same for men.
To dismantle the root causes of such discrimination, it is necessary to bring about systemic change. We need to work at different levels and with various stakeholders. Strategies, policies and regulations are important; however, implementation of strategies and policies are even more critical to help citizens learn, adapt, and change our dominant mindset and biases. We need to find different alternative models to engage different stakeholders, including the most affected groups and communities. On the one hand, it is important to build awareness; on the other hand, it is also necessary to build strong collaboration between the government and civil society organisations – and to localise the process.
Moreover, we must catalyse these changes as early as possible in the socialisation process. As the primary social unit of education, positive changes should start at the family level. If in our families, we start to challenge the discriminatory gender and cultural norms and practise positive gender norms instead, then changes at the individual level may affect the community level and wider circles in society.
It is also important to be aware of our own biases and uphold accountability in challenging unequal power relations, whether it be for household work or in the workplace, and by shouldering equal responsibility. This will dismantle biases, conscious or unconscious, of gender roles and ensure equal value is placed on all types of work in the public and private spheres. This is something we can start now. We can challenge such a biased mindset with our daily conscious actions. Our everyday activism can start the process.
We all expect and dream for a just world. We can contribute by changing ourselves. Our everyday actions can influence and inspire us to be the change we expect to see in the world.
 This write-up is based on my personal experience, as an inhabitant of context, but with the belief that my experience could be more or less similar in different regions. The discussion here relates to “gender,” “work,” and “socio–cultural Ideology” in a specific country’s context – Bangladesh. Work and gender are social, political, and cultural phenomena.
 The division of labour refers to the way each society divides work among men and women, boys and girls, according to socially-established gender roles or what is considered suitable and valuable for each sex.
Tajmary is an Associate of United Edge and a development worker from Bangladesh. Her work emphasizes social equity, human rights, and justice. She is a proud advocate for a Justice Based Approach to change.