Cross Country Checkup

'This is how it should work': How 2 women challenged cultural expectations of household chores

In the majority of Canadian households, women still take on the lion’s share of chores and unpaid labour. Two women tell Cross Country Checkup how they pushed for greater equality at home.

Callers tell Checkup how they pushed for greater equality at home

When Anbrin Naqvi moved to Canada from Pakistan more than 13 years ago, she encouraged her husband and sons to take on more at home. (Submitted by Anbrin Naqvi)

When Anbrin Naqvi, 52, moved to Canada from Pakistan's Punjab province more than 13 years ago, she says there was an expectation she take on the bulk of the housework.

But she challenged that notion and divided the work amongst her sons and husband instead.

"My husband didn't take it very kindly," Naqvi said. "He found it absolutely difficult, but I think the boys were at that age when they could be more flexible and open."

In the majority of Canadian households, women still take on the lion's share of chores and unpaid labour. On Cross Country Checkup Sunday, host Duncan McCue asked callers if it's time to reassign domestic duties. Callers shared their efforts to reach greater equality at home, while others vented frustrations over their workload.

Anbrin Naqvi, right, is pictured with her husband. (Submitted by Anbrin Naqvi)

According to 2015 numbers from Statistics Canada, women on average spend nearly three hours on housework each day — nearly an hour more than men. But the time that men spend on housework increased by an average of 24 minutes per day over the past 30 years, the report added.

Starting the conversation

Naqvi says it was uncommon to discuss the idea of gender equality in her household. Even her father, she adds, wouldn't entertain the idea.

"He said, 'No, this is how it should work.' So if my father didn't agree, how could I expect my husband to agree?" Naqvi told McCue.

But as more Pakistani women take on professional careers, Naqvi says the conversation is evolving.

I think women, unfortunately, have taken on way more than they bargained for- Andrea Chun

"Even then, they are still expected to take on the major 90 per cent of the household load, and [it's] not an option [for] men to chip in," she said.

In Naqvi's house, at least, the men are chipping in. Her husband takes on some of the cooking and her sons do their own laundry.

Taking on the 'invisible labour'

Lawyer and occasional radio host Andrea Chun is accustomed to hearing that partners are too busy at work to contribute at home.

"Well, I'm actually very busy at work, too, but somehow we [women] seem to be able to get up in the middle of the night when the baby is crying way more than he can," she told Checkup.

Chun, who immigrated from Hong Kong, says in Chinese culture there's an expectation that women are subservient to their husbands — as the saying goes, women should be a "good wife and wise mother."

Andrea Chun is a lawyer and occasional radio host in Toronto. (Submitted by Andrea Chun)

While she acknowledges that society is "probably" moving towards domestic equality, she says that even when men try to pick up the slack, there's an expectation that she directs them.

"The fact that you have to ask for that is in and of itself a chore for me," she said. "I think women do definitely bear the brunt of this invisible labour."

That "invisible labour" includes tasks like knowing every family member's schedule, making grocery lists and keeping track of what the kids like to eat.

In her household, Chun says she plays chief caregiver.

"As kids are older, their emotional and mental health is important, and I find that definitely in my household I'm the one to even spot the issue in the first place, let alone deal with it."

After a decade of trying, Chun says her husband takes on more responsibility at home, but still seeks direction.

"He says it all the time: 'I don't know what you wanted, but this is the best I could do'," she said with a laugh.

"I think women, unfortunately, have taken on way more than they bargained for."