Karina Batthyán is a sociologist and the current Executive Secretary of the Latin American Council of Social Sciences (CLACSO). His research, focused on the sexual division of labor, care, inequality in the distribution of time and tasks, are reflected in several books, such as Latin American views of care or Care Policies. Batthyan has been this week in the I International Congress on Gender and Education, held at the Soria campus of the University of Valladolid and inaugurated by the Minister of Equality, Irene Montero.
You speak of the quantitative and qualitative sexual division of labor, what does that mean?
If we look at the measurements of time use, which serve to see what we all do with our time during the day, we find the quantitative: women spend much more time than men on domestic and caregiving activities. But we also find that it is not only a problem of how long but of what activities we do, and in what has to do with care, women are especially in those activities that must be done, that it is necessary to do to the welfare of other people. They are the activities associated with the vital.
Meanwhile, men are in activities that are more flexible in terms of time, that is, they do not have to be done at eight in the morning or in the afternoon or at three in the afternoon, but they can be more flexible throughout the day. They are done when there is time or when you can. These activities are usually more linked to play, such as playing with children, giving behavior guidelines … They require less precision in the use of time and it is less serious if they are not done at that time. That is the qualitative difference.
What are the consequences of women taking on more of these urgent tasks?
It implies a daily mental load, one has to organize their time and life based on those tasks, being available at the necessary times and also having the necessary inputs to do those tasks. For example, I cannot feed a child if I do not have the products to make the meal so I also have to at least mentally manage that purchase, warn that it has to be done, what to buy, what is missing …
“Women dedicate much more time than men to care activities. But also women are especially in those activities that must be done, that it is necessary to do for the well-being of other people
Going to specific tasks, what differences are there by sex?
Cleaning the bathroom is the task that men do the least. It depends on the surveys, but when these tasks are analyzed it is seen that we find women in whom they are not the most pleasant to perform. For example, a typical one is cleaning the bathroom: it is one of the tasks that women do more than men. Men are more in cleaning the dishes, setting the table …
Regarding the mental load and having to coordinate one’s own time and those of tasks, the first studies show that teleworking during the pandemic has been a trap for women because in some way it has reproduced the usual gaps. In other words, it has not served to increase co-responsibility, but to increase stress and the mental burden of women.
Exactly, the studies that begin to come out around the year 2020 show that, far from attenuating the sexual division of labor with all the changes that the pandemic implied, it has become more acute. On the other hand, they show that we are returning to a stage that did not exist for a long time, not in such a generalized way, which is the coexistence in the same space of the productive and the reproductive, all within the house. This increased the burden, among other things because the outsourcing of housework and care, whether paid or not, disappeared due to the inability to move. This intensification of care work was not equally distributed between men and women, once again there was a greater burden for women.
The third thing is that there was a social discourse closely associated with the romanticization of ‘stay at home’, of caring, as if it had been something fantastic, and for women it became a trap. An even deadly trap for some women who had to stay at home with their attacker. And in any case, do not talk to me about the romanticization of staying at home when we had to worry about everything that we already did, plus care and other jobs, such as the children’s homework and therefore assume the roles of teachers and school support .
Do not talk to me about the romanticization of staying at home when we had to worry about everything that we already did plus care and other jobs, such as the children’s schoolwork
Can this have long-term consequences?
It will depend on how we organize ourselves once we emerge more stable from the pandemic. How we organize ourselves collectively and how the public policies and services necessary to pay for care are organized. There may be some setbacks, in fact, ECLAC for Latin America speaks of a ten-year setback in women’s rights, both in what has to do with economic autonomy and in the overload of care tasks and the different dimensions of violence and inequality. It is too early to assess the collective response but there is a risk of backsliding.
And how should these public policies be to avoid setback? You talk about creating new rights
Mainly I develop the right to care, that is, the right that we all have to be cared for during all stages of our life cycle and in turn the right to care, if we want to do so, our dependents, not as an obligation but if I want do it. We must understand that we are all interdependent, believing that we are autonomous and independent subjects is false. We have all needed and will need care at times in our lives and someone has to provide it. The right to care must be guaranteed as in the past the right to work, education or health was guaranteed.
“We must guarantee the right to care, that the possibility of a person to be cared for does not depend exclusively on their family networks, on how dense that network is, on whether or not there is a woman
How can we guarantee the right to care?
Like any right: generating collective mechanisms for the exercise of that right. There are different policies, those of time, those of services … guaranteeing care devices and that the possibility of a person to be cared for does not depend exclusively on their family networks, on how dense that network is, on whether or not there is a woman . If the services are public, private, community or mixed, that is another discussion. I can have my preferences and think that these services are better if they are in the public sphere, but what we cannot do is renounce regulation, which is the responsibility of the State. When we say services it is on a certain land, determining what is taking good care of it, how to guarantee quality … The state has the obligation to set these standards and monitor that they are met.
Based on experience, and we have the recent example of the pandemic and nursing homes, can the quality of these services really be guaranteed if they go on the market?
That depends on the national context, but if you ask me my opinion, I think not and that these services and policies should be public to ensure not only the minimum bases of provision but also that they are universal. But that is another area of discussion. The important thing is that policies exist and are audited. There must be minimum standards.
You say that for any country it is more expensive not to have care policies than to have them, so why this resistance to articulate them? Isn’t it convenient for the system that they don’t exist?
There is resistance because it threatens the sexual division of labor, refers to the critical knot of gender inequalities, that division and those processes of female and male socialization. But that is not an economic argument, because when we see how much it would cost to have these policies we see that having them, due to the activation process that it would entail, is less expensive than not having them. Why don’t we have them? Because it implies questioning the sexual division of labor and something more profound: moving from what is today the market society, where everything is governed by the market, to a care society that refers to many nuclei that are not necessarily willing to transform.