The value of non-working time and gender equality

We live in a time when a lot of women work full-time and have remarkable careers. Universities and many other employers strive to achieve gender equality in their institutions, which means they are currently preferably employing women until they reach the 50%-50% gender ratio. In this way, the vision of liberal feminist economics is followed – women should be able to obtain the same competencies as men, assume the same positions, and earn the same salary. With women working full time, either their partners should take over a larger share of household and care work than they had done in the past, or this work needs to be outsourced to service workers who are often migrants. With the latter model, the gender quality pertains only to the Western middle class. In contrast, global challenges grow, with women employed in Western households often leaving behind their families or having less time to care for their children. This cannot be a systemic solution to gender equality. 

Teresa Bücker (2022), a German feminist publicist and author of the book “Alle_Zeit” (“All Work”), proposes to think about gender equality from the perspective of time, including time devoted to household and care work. For one thing, she pleads for appreciating these two sorts of work. Household work enables us to reconnect with ourselves and can be very satisfactory. Care work is, of course, invaluable and the very basis of society. We need to make time for it in our “time budgets”. It should be included in the design of political reforms and appreciated no less than salary work. But Teresa Bücker goes further and demands that we make time for cultural and political activities as well. She refers to the model of the German sociologist Frigga Haug (2008), who proposed dividing the 16 hours we have at our disposal per day into salary, care, cultural (including sports), and volunteering/political work. Of course, this is only a model; we do not have to do precisely this. Nevertheless, according to Haug (2008) and Bücker (2022), we need to reappreciate outside work activities. We need them all to develop and thrive, be a member of society, have a community, and be there for others. This initially utopian model could guide our vision of a society beyond the capitalist system. With a genuine community, we need less money because we can lend each other things, look after each other’s children, cook for each other, etc. 

The issue of dividing one’s time into numerous activities reminds me of what a refugee from Odesa, a participant of a workshop on financial education I co-organized, shared with a group of East European migrants in Berlin: according to her, before the war, Ukrainian women often worked part-time to make place for care work, but also for artistic, cultural and spiritual activities that a woman needs to thrive. In the Ukrainian context, this was made possible by a man working full-time, leading to his wife’s dependence on him. Haug’s and Bücker’s proposition differs from that in that men, too, should be able to devote time to these activities. However, the workshop participant’s remark struck me as it showed that, according to her, many women in Ukraine do realize that time is a scarce value and that they do need to devote time to activities that allow them to live fuller lives even in a society in which the level of prosperity is not high. Perhaps Western scholars and authors should look more into models of life in less affluent communities to find one for a green, post-capitalist future. 

Bücker, Teresa (2022), Alle_Zeit. Ullstein-Verlag.

Haug, F. (2008), Die Vier-in-einem-Perspektive: Politik von Frauen für eine neue Linke. Argument-Verlag.

Photo by Heather Zabrieskie on Unsplash

Author: Dr. Ewa Dąbrowska, weltgewandt e.V. / Berlin

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