Will men join care work challenge when it pays off?

Date: July 6, 2012
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HIV and AIDS have drastically increased the burden and need for care giving, especially in Africa, which hosts some of the countries with the highest prevalence rates. These tasks, and the resulting economic and social costs, are overwhelmingly borne by women and girls. The significance of this for women globally is reflected by the priority theme of this year’s 53rd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women being held in New York early next month À“ The equal sharing of responsibilities between women and men, including care giving in the context of HIV/AIDS.

Men and society tend to look down at care work, because they think it is a woman’s natural chore, an extension of childbearing and household tasks, while men focus on the serious jobs of working in offices and other places to generate income for the family. Men shy away from care work because it is considered women’s work, not only unrecognsied and unappreciated, but unpaid for as well.
There are growing calls for the professionalisation of care work. Men say that this strategy would undoubtedly encourage their peers to take part. Yet, while there are social expectations for women to give care out of good will, professionalsiation of the task would also result in better working conditions, improved skills, and economic empowerment for both men and women.
In Zambia, like many African countries, society often stigmatises men who take on care responsibilities. Boswell Hapenza of Chibombo in Zambia’s Central Province suffered stigma from society and family members when he took care of his nephew, bedridden for almost a year. Hapenza felt the burden was too much for female relatives, especially since the patient was a man who needed some privacy when it came to such needs as bathing.
Hapenza said society viewed his commitment to his sick nephew, especially during the farming season, as a sign of weakness and laziness. They felt he should have left the job of care giving to his sister and other female members of the family.
“I thought I was doing a noble job of giving hope, love and care to the patient, but I became a laughing stock in the village who felt I was just lazy because as a head of the family, I was supposed to be a bread winner and not a care giver,À he recalls. According to Hapenza, such attitudes from society hinder men from engaging in care giving.
The growing burden and need for care giving requires concerted efforts from both men and women. Would the professionalisation of care work bring more men on board?
Davie Simbowe of Lusaka’s Bauleni residential area said when care work begins to pay off, men will definitely be more involved, because they will have a source of income at the end of the day. According to Simbowe, if government or organisations devise systematic programmes providing men and other caregivers with necessities, such as paying for school fees for children or house rentals, men would take up the work.
“Men will get involved because it will improve the status of caregivers and they will not have to look for money else where,À said Simbowe. “If I work as a care giver and at the end of the day when I knock off I receive even a loaf of bread and packet of sugar to take back home, then my status will be improved in society.À
Barnabas Kwanja is excited at just hearing about people considering professionalising care work. Kwanja, a peer educator, believes that efforts to professionalise or reward caregivers would consolidate the passion towards community service among male and female volunteers.
“I am happy to hear talk that they are possibilities of care work becoming a profession that will be rewarding caregivers somehow,À said Kwanja. “Many people would develop interest in care work. I am sure that more men would see reason to take part in care work while women will get motivated to continue offering community services.À
He added that men’s reluctance to offer care and support stems from domestic expectations to provide for their families. “As it is today, many people, especially those in the agriculture, do not see sense in offering care to the sick. I am sure that monetary gain or payments in kind will motivate men to enlist,À he said.
Zambia Anglican Council, Deputy Programmes Director for Development, Brighton Nchimunya. Nchimunya added that the move would dissolve gender stereotypes characterising care giving, by positioning the work as any other profession or job that people do to earn a living. He pointed out that this would also improve the situation of patients and caregivers themselves. “If care work begins to pay, men will be encouraged to take up the challenge because they will have a source of income which they usually look for,À he said.
Ignatius Mwelwa a Lusaka resident is equally for professionalising care work to encourage people of different skills, men in particular, to do care work. According to Mwelwa, once care work becomes better, many males in Zambia and elsewhere will be interested to join.
“I stayed in Europe for a decade and from personal experience, I have witnessed volunteers being paid a token for their skills. I recall volunteers in choral groups receiving a small payment, and this attitude motivates individuals to offer their services,À said Mwelwa.
Ketty Malumo, a Mongu resident in the Western Province of Zambia said the idea of paid care work was welcome, but must receive careful consideration, in order to sustain it. Malumo was quick to mention that if it worked, all stakeholders should support he move, agreeing that this will encourage men’s involvement.
She said the challenge would be society’s view and allocation of the responsibilities of care giving. “At present, most men at household level will not even look after their sick wives or children. They would rather ask their female relatives to join them and look after the sick wife or ask the wife to go to her relatives so that they can look after her, explained Malumo. “It is a question of whether men will do the job with the passion it deserves or will only do it to earn something.À
Another Lusaka resident Monica Uvula said she salutes men involved in care work despite not receiving payment. Uvula pointed out that unpaid care work was bad for both men and women. In certain instances, care work results in family disintegration. For example, in some situations girls in the family engage in risky income earning activities, such as sex work and selling on the streets, to look for food for a household while their mothers spend most of their time in tending a sick family member, for example the male breadwinner.
It is certain that HIV and AIDS will continue to be a reality in our societies for many years to come. It is only by finding cooperative strategies to help women and men care for those who are ill, that we will be able to respond to the challenges ahead.
Perpetual Sichikwenkwe is a journalist in Zambia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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