As the eldest daughter in her Catholic household, marketing professional Christine (not her real name) looks forward to Christmas with both excitement and dread.
While it's that special time of the year when her entire family gets to sit in one table, eat their favorite meals, and exchange gifts all while the house is beaming with holiday cheer—the amount of labor it takes to get there fills her with stress.
It's a burden she shares with her mother, the only other woman in their six-person household.
"Of course, I'm grateful for the chance to care for my family this way, considering how I'm away from them for the most part of the year. It's also the second COVID Christmas we're celebrating, so there's a lot to be thankful for—not any of us getting COVID since the pandemic is one," she told reportr.
"But growing up, it's a role that's been passed to me by default I guess, as the 'Ate' of the family. You don't realize how unfair this is, until you see your brothers all grown up, and it's still just you putting in most of the work," she added.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced families to stay at home as much as possible, Filipino women still do more housework than men, the 2021 National Household Care Survey commissioned by Oxfam Philippines shows.
During the holiday season, this imbalance is much worse, as on top of everyday labor such as cooking, cleaning, and organizing, women also take charge of shopping, party-organizing, and even trip-planning (if it's a holiday vacation).
American journalist Judith Shulevitz calls this—“The holiday shift.” She argued that even if men and women seem to distribute housework evenly, women still bear the burden of “managing” the home, bringing them more pressure and anxiety during the holidays.
CHRISTMAS LIFE KIT
Women as 'designated worriers'
All over the world, where gender inequality remains pervasive, women, especially wives or mothers, have been referred to by sociologists as "designated worriers" of the household; their task—management of familial duties—dubbed as "worry work".
Although men and women perceive cleanliness equally, an unclean house evokes more anxiety in women, according to research. This is heightened during the holidays, sociologist Michelle Jannings, told JStor Daily.
“The worrying about the Christmas picture or card is more likely to happen with women—and the responsibility of sharing it outside of the family is more likely to fall on the shoulders of women,” Janning said, explaining how women tend to feel more responsible for taking and managing of the family story.
For every gleeful family picture you see on Christmas, you might wonder—how many worrisome women did it take to get them smiling like that?
In Filipino culture, as traditionally taught in education settings, the "ilaw ng tahanan" or the mother is in charge of maintaining the household and looking after each family member's needs, while the father, the "haligi ng tahanan" ideally works as the main provider of the family. She's also responsible for kin-keeping, the emotional labor needed to keep family members in touch with one another.
Among childless couples, analysts said the distribution of both household and kin-keeping labor tend to be more equitable, but the imbalance is often still there, especially for those in heterosexual relationships.
Women are still burdened by care work while working from home or the moment they arrive from the office. All this has been further complicated by the pandemic.
"If care work in the household is not equitably shared and/or if her employer enforces a rigid work schedule and is inflexible, a woman 's double burden could intensify. This can negatively impact not only her work but also her physical and mental well-being," Nathalie Verceles, a professor at the UP Center for Women Studies, earlier told reportr.
Is there a way to reduce gender inequality in housework?
During the pandemic, men were expected to take on more chores as they work from home, said Leah Payud, Resilience Portfolio Manager of Oxfam Philippines. A study of the international aid agency found that women remain disadvantaged at home.
In sourcing interviewees for this story, the first person who volunteered was John Phillip Bravo, a marketing professional who said he's been contributing his fair share of holiday work.
"My parents raised me to assume roles in a gender specific way. But during the pandemic, I realized how men can now prioritize work and family responsibilities. We can now do our fair share of this labor," he said.
"It's isn't just another step to eradicating gender inequality, it’s also a way to ensure we maintain a healthy relationship," he added.
But more than verbal encouragement, the "key is to craft policies and programs" that can truly inspire gender equality in housework, the Philippine Institute for Development Studies said in a policy note. It suggested policy mechanisms such as granting couples incentives to encourage them to avail of child care services, as well as domestic labor.
This is being done in Sweden, whose government is encouraging families to hire maid services to ease domestic load through tax breaks.
Apart from increasing women's participation in the labor market, their hope is to reduce the informal hiring of domestic laborers, protecting the working rights of those in these domestic jobs, who are mostly women.
"It is disappointing that there is still inequality at home and that the bulk of unpaid care work still falls on women.. We’re hoping that more men, especially those from the younger generations, would start to take on care work and challenge social norms,” Oxfam's Payud said.