17.5—A number every Canadian woman (and man) needs to know

The average Canadian woman works 17.5 additional hours of unpaid work related to household tasks and childrearing than the average man each week. To be clear—that’s additional hours. Every week. That’s a s***load of work.

This unpaid work has significant implications on all aspects of women’s lives — our mental health, our career potential, our earning potential, and our overall physical wellbeing. So, in honour of next week’s International Women’s Day, I’d like to challenge you to speak to your partner about the number 17.5.

Creating a household that runs on the principles of equity and mutual respect is — like most meaningful endeavours — a process. But there are a few steps that have worked well for our family.

Understand that luck has nothing to do with it.

When my son was one, we took him to Calgary Children’s Hospital due to inexplicable stomach pains that had him curled up in pain. After spending the afternoon and evening in the hospital running tests, my husband left the hospital with my daughter to get dinner.

Just after he left, a female pediatrician came in and started asking questions about my son’s bowel movements. I was honest with her, “I can’t answer these questions. My husband changes the diapers. He can answer them when he gets back.”

Her response was one that I had heard many times, “Wow — You’re so lucky.”

Coming from a highly educated, young woman, this was devastating.

I’ve been told by dental hygienists, co-workers, immediate family members, and relative strangers that I am lucky due to my husband’s involvement.

Let me be clear: creating a life of household equity does not come from fairy dust, magic wands, wishing on rainbows, or luck. It comes from a lot of work, conversation, planning, collaboration, and heated arguments. And relentless perseverance on my part.

But if there is one thing that I think it is worth fighting for, loudly and unapologetically, it’s equity. And that means I persevere until my partner takes on a large part of the childrearing. Including diapers.

One day — early in our marriage before we considered starting a family — I told my husband that I had something that I wanted to show him. He sat down next to me and I passed him a list. Typed on a sheet of paper was a list of everything that needed to be done to maintain our household. The list ranged from cleaning to the bathrooms, to organizing our monthly budget, to pulling weeds from our garden beds, to shopping for groceries, to meal prep. I handed my husband a pen and told him to put his initials next to an item. Then I initialized one item. We continued until the list was completed.

The list has changed my life.

The list comes out when we move, when we go on long vacations with our children, when we have dinner parties or social gatherings, when the holidays come around, or when I have a large work deadline.

We go back to the list.

Start with what needs to happen on a day-to-day basis. Sit with your partner, with any adults that are also living with you, your children, and make a list. Then divide this -ish up. Post the list in a prominent place. Go back to the list. It will change and fluctuate as your situations do.

Understand that it will be difficult

There are husbands out there that are already taking their children to school.

They’re taking time off for paternity leave.

They’re doing the cooking, taking days when their kids are sick, cleaning the house, and in charge of childcare.

They are the first to tell you that they are the exception to the rule. And doing this work is difficult. It’s difficult because we are ultimately changing society’s expectations that have been an ingrained part of our culture for centuries.

A friend of ours took a paternity leave to raise his newborn and his 5-year-old son. He would publicly post challenges he faced as an involved dad.

In one memorable social media post, he explains that he was in a large, big-box store owned by a multi-billion-dollar company. He went into the men’s room to change his son’s dirty diaper. Frustrated that — once again — there was no change table in the men’s room, he found a comfortable furniture display in the middle of the store and changed his son’s diaper there.

The unpaid and largely invisible work that women do is deeply engrained in our culture. To equalize this work will take time.

But I challenge you to do it.

Finally, to the men reading this post, wondering what you can do to change this inequity my response is — do the laundry. Scrub toilets. Get up in the middle of the night when your kid is sick. Change diapers. Take over the online learning. Take off work when your kids gets sent home for 14 days to quarantine.

Do it without being asked.

Do it without pointing out to your wife that you did it.

Do it without expectation of a reward.

And if you’re already doing it—get your brothers, your uncles, your cousins, your friends, your co-workers to start doing it as well.

Here’s to decimating 17.5.

Resources: Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report. Time use: Total work burden, unpaid work, and leisure:https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/54931-eng.htm

Lisa Bush is a writer, educator, and author of the book Teaching Well: How healthy, empowered teachers lead to thriving, successful classrooms. She is the creator of the Working Mom Wellness Podcast.