Equality Starts at Home (ESAH) – Addressing Gender Inequality in the Home
Our Journey Since 2020
I remember June 2020 feeling elated after speaking at the Aspire Reimagination conference. It was the first zoom conference I had spoken at and it was amazing to see all the comments in the chat coming through from hundreds of participants all over the world. You can’t get this type of real-time engagement – and see the thoughts that are occurring to people – when speaking at a live conference.
I was talking about whether the future would be more equal and compassionate post-Covid. And as part of this, I shared the findings of some research I had carried out with 51 people whom I had asked about gender inequality in their homes and whether it had changed during Covid. In this instance, it was a very small sample of couples and I was looking at dynamics between men and women. The findings were unsurprising – women were carrying out disproportionately more of the household responsibilities and childcare and in many cases, it had gotten worse during Covid – with women doing the homeschooling in addition to everything else.
But I was heartened though that about half of those I spoke to had a balance that worked for them, sometimes by ‘careful design’. So that does give me hope. Conversely, about half had a poor balance and about seven where there was extreme gender inequality at home. In these cases, the woman did everything at home as well as working full time – in some cases when the man wasn’t even working.
For me, it is not about dividing up everything 50-50% as that is unlikely to work in practice. But it is about finding a balance that is founded on respect, trust and good communication – not based on social norms, stereotypes and outdated ideas of gender roles. And a balance that enables each in the household to fulfil their potential – whatever that might be.
That night after the conference I spoke to so many women about the issues of gender inequality in their homes. Everyone identified with the issue – in many cases women said, I feel so lucky that I have a partner that does carry out their fair share of the household responsibilities. Off the back of the conversations I had, it was clear to me that some were as passionate as I was about making difference in the home sphere and a belief that this sphere is often neglected (beyond the important critical focus on combating domestic violence). These passionate women were also highly accomplished in their fields and had expertise and understanding of gender.
These women – Jackie Carter, Lesley Macniven, Venise Vinegar and myself – became the Founding Sisters of Equality Starts at Home.
Why burden of unpaid/household work is an Issue?
Even in the most equal societies (e.g. the Nordic countries), women carry out more household and caring responsibilities. This includes physical and emotional (the mental load). Covid has brought this into sharper focus as women have more often picked up the slack at home – and have regressed back to stereotypical 1950s housewives – negotiating reduced hours or leaving the workforce to care for and home-school children.
This has a number of detrimental effects – such as a decline in the mental health of women as they struggle to cope with increasing demands on their time, with no time to reflect and relax, they feel taken for granted, disrespected, unheard and unsupported.
A mother’s mental health is also detrimental to the health and well being of her children. Women are not fulfilling their potential and the absence of women – and diversity in general – from the workforce including at senior levels means poor decisions are more likely to be made. If we scale this up then given the range of complex global issues we have to tackle for example climate change, diverse thinking is needed at the highest level. If women are confined to the home sphere they are excluded from all of this. We believe that outdated stereotypes are no good for anyone as they constrain people to societal expectations.
Getting the Basics Right for Equality Starts At Home
We started meeting fortnightly from late Jun 2020 and from that have grown Equality Starts At Home from an idea to reality. In the first few months, we focused on the basics. We work highly collaboratively and inclusively and after much discussion, decided on a name, vision, mission, values and a logo.
The African proverb comes to mind; ‘If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.’
Getting the basics right takes time. But agreeing on the fundamentals, sharing a vision, a world in which equality at home is a reality for all,’ a commitment to changing behaviours and mindsets in our mission, underpinned by shared values of Collaborative, Active, Respectful of difference and striving for diversity and inclusion and Empowering – spelling CARE. And at times of conflict or disagreement, it is important to keep going back to our fundamentals.
We then needed more people to join the Steering Group of Equality Starts At Home to help us establish ourselves, grow and determine how we could best deliver our mission. We advertised for Strategic and Special Advisers and then four more people joined the Steering Group (see who we are). In late 2020 we set up our website which outlined the issue and why it matters, focused on our social media presence and started creating content to raise the profile of the issue.
As always with start-ups, we recognized that we needed to move beyond the initiation stage and to develop more focus and a bit of structure. We recruited a Director, Rachel Akiboye, an Events Coordinator, Catreya Mably and developed our first strategy together. This will be launched in the next month and provides direction and focus for our ambitions over the next few years.
What Have We Done So Far?
We decided early on that people should work to their strengths and interests and in doing so have managed to create and maintain vibrancy, setting up subgroups to develop content and deliver campaigns. It is still early days but in the first year, we have delivered the following. We believe our new strategic goals – listed below – will enable us to deliver our mission to shift mindsets and change behaviours to enable a greater sharing of the care, emotional and domestic responsibilities. But our approach will be to test and learn and evolve.
Goal #1 Create a movement for change
As part of our ambition to engage and get people talking about the issue of inequality in the home, we have developed the following content and seen good engagement on social media
- A Christmas video All I want for Christmas
- International Women’s Day publicity, questionnaire and podcast
- Facebook and Linked in groups and regular tweets
Goal #2 Change systems and practices that perpetuate inequalities in the home
Under this goal, we have engaged with others to support and amplify issues that will help improve equality in the home for example equal parenting or raising the gendered issue of women having inadequate rest – in relation to Covid and Long Covid on women’s hour. We have engaged other organisations such as the Fawcett Society, Women’s Equality Party, Equal Parenting Unit, Thirdshift to consider ways to work together on complementary issues.
Goal #3 Empower people to create equality in their homes
For this, we want to provide information, guidance and create safe spaces to give people the resources and confidence to navigate home conversations and empower change at home. Early work we have done here is to publish Top tips to start conversations on the home ESAH linked in page and we have plans to create a digital ‘one-stop shop’ for these resources. We also have plans to have a regular programme of events where people can meet and talk about how to improve equality in their homes – in a safe environment.
Future Plans for Equality Starts At Home
This is our first year. We are excited about the future and to forge a common cause with like-minded organisations and individuals including those that will challenge our thinking to achieve our ultimate vision. As the first year closes we are thinking big but starting small. We will be continuing to progress actions to deliver our three goals. We have another video on the horizon that highlights our own stories about our motivations for equality. We will also launch our strategy in the next month and host a meeting and safe space for sharing ideas about how to create more equal homes. We are also planning to carry out some research into behaviour change as part of this to develop a Theory of Change to inform our thinking. We also want to progress our one-stop-digital hub and resource centre. Those are some of the plans on the horizon. We would be delighted to hear from people or organisations who wish to partner with us or support in any other way with resources, funding or organisational skills and expertise.
On a personal note, this has been a fantastic journey over the last year – not without its challenges as we negotiate the new terrain of a start-up campaign with huge ambition. We fundamentally believe that equality starts in the home – this is where habits, views and norms are formed, that become ingrained and are hard to change and therefore perpetuate into future generations. The home space is where it all begins and must be tackled. And we cannot do it alone.