A group of economists and social scientists at the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS), the think tank of the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), did all of us Filipinos a great favor by coming out with an estimate of the significant contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of our country by the unpaid work of women in the home. I have always been uncomfortable with the exaggerated complaint of gender equality campaigners about how not enough women in the Philippines become CEOs of business enterprises. Although the Philippines always ranks high globally in measures of gender equality in the work place, I have always pointed out that not enough women reach the top of the management ladder in business organizations, not because of discrimination, but because of the free choice of so many qualified women not to aspire for top positions because of their decision to devote more of their time to the very valuable work of being wives and mothers in our households. During more than 50 years of working with business enterprises as a consultant, I have met numerous very intelligent Filipinas who could have risen to the top of organizations as CEOs but who unselfishly and joyfully decided to give the highest priority to raising their children and leaving the major task of earning a living to their respective husbands, even if the wives were as qualified as or even superior to their respective spouses in their management knowhow and skills.
The very scientific study of the PIDS social scientists has finally settled the issue that even from the economic point of view, we cannot pooh pooh the work being done by mothers and other women in the home as a loving service to the rest of the family. Over and above the incalculable spiritual and moral value of their role as wives and mothers, the unpaid work by women in the Philippines contributes 20% of GDP, valued at 2 trillion pesos. That is more than the sum of the total remittances of ten million OFWs and the foreign exchange earnings of 1.2 million workers in the BPO-IT sector. Women are predominant in providing personal services to their respective homes. Only 2 percent of males help out in housework. I do not mean, however, that we should not look for more creative ways that will enable women to skillfully combine their work at home with excelling in their respective professions, such as allowing more flexible schedules and motivating males to contribute more to the work at home. My observation may be anecdotical but I know of more and more young couples who are emulating the lifestyle of Western cultures in which the husband devotes a proportionally larger amount of time to helping with child care and housework. This does not mean, however, that we will lose the clear preference that our women still have for being the main persons in the home to take care of the children, especially in their earlier years, and of putting physical and emotional order at home.
In this regard, let me quote Pope Francis about the primordial role of mothers in building a more human society. In Amoris Laetitia (Love in the Family), he wrote: “With great affection I urge all future mothers: Keep happy and let nothing rob you of the interior joy of motherhood. Your child deserves your happiness. Don’t let fears, worries, other people’s comments or problems lessen your joy at being God’s means of bringing a new life to the world. Prepare yourself for the birth of your child, but without obsessing, and join in Mary’s song of joy, ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant.’ Try to experience His serene excitement amid all your many concerns, and ask the Lord to preserve your joy, so that you can pass it on to your child.”
As usual, the Pope appeals to what people from all races and creeds accept as natural truths: “Nowadays we acknowledge as legitimate and indeed desirable that women wish to study, work, develop their skills and have personal goals. At the same time, we cannot ignore the need that children have for a mother’s presence, especially in the first months of life. Indeed, ‘the woman stands before the man as a mother, the subject of the new human life that is conceived and develops in her, and from her is born into the world’. The weakening of this maternal presence with its feminine qualities poses a grave risk to our world. I certainly value feminism, but one that does not demand uniformity or negate motherhood. For the grandeur of women includes all the rights derived from their inalienable human dignity but also from their feminine genius, which is essential to society. Their specifically feminine abilities motherhood in particular also grant duties, because womanhood also entails a specific mission in this world, a mission that society needs to protect and preserve for the good of all.”
I would like to point out that the very etymology of the word “economics” comes from a Greek word which means “management of the household.” It is no mean feat to manage a household, especially in today’s urbanizing, digitalizing and globalizing environment. A mother and wife who decides to spend most of her time managing her own household in today’s economic and technical environment has to develop a good dose of knowledge and skills in technology, finance, psychology, health sciences and other fields of the human, and not to mention theological sciences, to be able to provide her own family a healthy and comfortable home. Increasingly, she can expect less assistance from the traditional domestic helpers or “yayas” as more and more single women find much more profitable forms of employment. If we are to assign an economic value to the work of mothers in their respective families, using market prices of the types of services they render (such as cooking, care giving, nursing, laundrying and cleaning) I would venture to state that the 20 percent estimated by the PIDS researchers could easily be underestimates. Let us, therefore, not give short shrift to the economic value of the work of our women at home. Let us respect the decision of many married women in our country to use their knowledge and talents in building the strongest foundation of every society: A happy and harmonious family, “a bright and cheerful home”, to use a phrase of St. Josemaria Escriva. (To be continued).
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