HAVANA, April 30th (IPS) For many women like Iliannys Acosta, cleaning a Cuban home during the current Coronavirus pandemic has become a detailed protocol. She repeats the protocol several times a day, trying to ensure her family is safe from the virus behind closed doors.
During a time when the government is calling for social distancing and more and more communities, and even provinces, are going into lockdown or varying degrees of quarantine, traditional gender roles have flourished, as people have to stay at home.
Brazilian researcher Joana das Flores Duarte, who analyzes how the Coronavirus outbreak has involved doubling down on housework, notes that in Latin America it mainly falls upon the shoulders of women.
“Many women who do this unpaid work say that they are exhausted, worried and feel responsible for the virus not coming into their homes,” Das Flores stated in her study “Gender, Quarantine and COVID-19: for a critique of domestic work”, published in the press kit “Thinking about the Pandemic: Social Observatory about the Coronavirus.”
She also assessed how domestic work increases, “because as well as the normal organizing, cleaning tasks and being emotionally available to the rest of the family, the virus imposes a new burden: elimination.”
“To give you an average, cleaning food and the house takes four hours on average; for women with children, this is even more exhaustive,” she writes.
Women clean, wash, cook
Ilyannis Acosta knows this all too well. Her home province of Holguin is one of the five hardest hit on the Caribbean island by COVID-19. Her house “smells like a hospital”, because of all the bleach, alcohol and detergent she uses every day to clean surfaces, clothes and food.
“When you have to take care of small children, you become a little obsessive and paranoid. You wake up early and wash all the clothes and nappies you have at hand. You disinfect every corner, every object you see,” she said.
According to the young mother of a 3-year-old boy and a girl of just a few months, cleaning takes up a lot of her time. “With the children in the house, you have to ensure everything is clean, that they are fed, looked after and entertained,” she outlined.
She says that she spends the whole day cleaning and then cleaning again… bleach is already the peculiar fragrance of every new day and she can barely feel the blisters on her hands from using it so much.
“Every precaution isn’t enough. The front door has become the disinfection area where you have to clean your shoes on a bleached bedspread, wash your hands and leave your clothes. Then, you have to go straight to the bathroom,” she explained, in stages.
“And visits?” Zero. Home is the only safe place,” she insisted, without a doubt.
IPS Cuba spoke to 10 families in Holguin, Havana and Pinar del Rio about the subject. Cleaning routines are repeated in every household we interviewed, even though each province has been affected in varying degrees by COVID-19.
There were different results for joint responsibility for housework, depending on each family’s particular dynamic, although there were inconsistent standards in the majority about how chores and responsibilities were shared out.
In this outline, women continue to be the ones to do most of the cleaning, while men overexpose themselves to being infected by the virus, as they are the ones who go out more regularly “to find food and get other basic essentials.”
Men overexpose themselves
Even though the number of men and women infected with COVID-19 is more or less the same right now, recent daily briefings by the Public Health Ministry reveal growth in male percentages.
Up until April 22nd, women represented 50.7% of people infected on the Caribbean island, but men made up 67.5% of the death rate.
Traditional gender roles might answer for these statistics, as men have the role of getting food and other items. Out of the 10 families interviewed in the country’s three provinces, there was only one where women were the ones to go out for provisions, and it ended up being a family made up entirely of women.
In the rest of them, the standard “women clean and men provide” was seen, even when housework was shared out relatively fairly in certain contexts and homes.
The role of provider also involves a greater risk of becoming infected for men, and the regular hygiene measures they have to take. Five interviewees from their respective families agreed that they had to wash their hands and other body parts, with disinfectant or alcohol, seven times on average if they were to go shopping.
“And I have the audit to get into the house. A bottle of water with chlorine to wash my hands before going in. I take off my shoes and go straight into the bathroom. I put the clothes in the washing basket, and I take a shower washing every centimeter of my body as if it were a forensic search,” Jhonny Frank added, who also lives in Holguin.
“We men go out more often. We are the ones who have to disinfect the most, especially ourselves, so we don’t infect the family. We have to prevent ourselves from becoming bait. We are stressed, we know that we are the ones who can bring the virus into the home,” he added.
For his part, Amado Puebla, pointed out that every precaution or hygiene measure, no matter how much work it is, is necessary. Even more so in Marianao, where there are complex social problems in the Cuban capital, the province with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Puebla goes out on his moped once a week, twice max, to look for food and cleaning products. He doesn’t only disinfect his body, but wallets, backpacks, bags and keys, coins, rings, phone. With chlorine and soap, over and over again. He and his partner Dermis even use a sprinkler to wash everything they bring, food or bottles.
Amado, Dermis, Jhonny Frank and Iliannys stress extreme hygiene measures. “If you have to pay for something or if somebody comes for something, it’s through the bars, and it’s immediately disinfected.” “Nobody comes inside this home,” they said.