What’s Cooking? A not-so-gentle reminder to African women on absconding from their duty

I am sorry you’re behind the times. Can I bring you up to speed? Cooking is never a woman’s job. We train them to cook much as we train men like you to be misogynist, patriarchal, and sexist.”- @Bahiirwa. A twitter user had this response to tweet from one Ugandan man who thought of putting out a piece of advice to women on cooking and being modern.

Mathias Ssemanda, a self described blogger asked women to stop “abandoning” their duty of cooking.

 

Sexism on Ugandan twitter is common but so are the increasing number of young women’s voices and men who are ready to challenge the notion of gender roles like they were scribbled in stone. We have seen heated discussions around women kneeling for men (accepted and long practiced in some Ugandan cultures) and often newspaper columns discuss that important duty of woman washing her partner’s underwear- yes underwear is a big conversation in this otherwise ‘pious’ country.

So when this tired lecture came up there were enough voices to respond. Obaa Boni, Founder and Author at Ghana feminism had this response.

The tweet generally took me back to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s words in Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions.  

“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned. Cooking – domestic work in general – is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women”

The emphasis that selective biology is a reason for social norms. What stands out is in the tweet is the responsibility of a woman cooking for her husband and children and the idea that is her duty. And the claim of ‘hiding under civilisation to abscond from duty’ is evidence that the rug is slowly being pulled under the feet of men like him.

When I read the tweet I thought of my own father whose mother perfectly trained him how to cook. He visits me very often these days -for medical reasons mostly- travelling almost 400 kms to come to access ‘better’ healthcare in Kampala. At my house, in the last one year my father has learnt how to cook rice. Actually I didn’t believe it at first but I found out  relative had given him a lesson over the phone on how to measure the water and he was good to go. I have grown around men who have cooking skills and in some times they trounce me. So when younger person, city dweller and educated still holds onto the idea that women still have a duty to cook for their husbands with no equivalent duty on other party, I am taken aback and reminded of the fact that there’s a lot of work to be done to change this kind of mindset.

Even when more people are coming to accept that unpaid care work done by women and girls like cooking, looking after family is a major human rights issue, the journey is still long to bring actualise the equality here. UN special report on unpaid care work and women’s human rights showed that heavy and unequal care responsibilities are major barriers to gender equality and to women’s equal enjoyment of human rights, and in many cases condemn women to poverty.

Unpaid care involves domestic tasks such as meal preparation, cleaning, washing clothes, collecting water and fuel; and direct care of persons (including children, older persons and persons with disabilities) carried out in homes and communities.

It’s often those who deny the burden of the unpaid care work and the need for it to be remunerated that would accuse women who are not still trapped by it of absconding from duty. To them there’s no economics or rights here, it is just a woman’s duty and nothing more.

“Heavy and unequal care burdens may curtail the enjoyment of human rights by women and girls, including their rights to education, work, social security and participation, as well as to rest and leisure.’- UN report.

On average a Ugandan woman spends 14 hours a day on care work which limits her potential in engaging in any other economic activity and public affairs. Many young women I know still have to labor for a pay at their workplaces while still carrying out most of the home care work.

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Illustrations from a report by Oxfam & ActionAid on making care work visible.

However with increasing urbanisation and Uganda still having a fairly young people but largely unemployed, both young men and women are tussling to find an income. For those majority in the workforce in urban areas their families are sustained by vulnerable poor girls at the bottom of the  income ladder in the country.

Home care work burden is on them lowly paid house helps. We are still trying to transfer the burden so when a woman graduates from one class to another she passes on her home care burden to the next level. We are yet to see bigger steps on equal time to home care work between men and women.  It is common to find complaints of men saying their wives don’t cook for them. In fact there’s a divorce case in Kampala where a man claims the wife wouldn’t cook so he was nearly starving to death with his children.

But the scare of an African woman slowly getting away from this burden is real because there’s some progress registered.  What should be preoccupying those scared is trying to find new ways of sharing care work and negotiating for a more equal playing field.  Care work is not a duty but work that has to be recognized, reduced and redistributed for African women’s productivity and full potential to be realised.

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Screenshot of the tweet that sparked debate

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