Imagine this, an individual is done with work and arrives home, only to continue working in the kitchen. This person makes dinner for two, has the meal quickly and cleans up before heading to bed. Who did you imagine this person to be: A husband or wife?
A poll conducted on gulfnews.com showed that even today, women are preparing daily meals in seven out of ten households. These results tally with those revealed by the US-based Bureau of Labour Statistics, wherein 70 per cent of women in the US cook at home on a regular basis. However, the same survey, when conducted in 1965, showed that 92 per cent of women were cooking then. Is economics driving equality into marriages?
With many more women working full time jobs now, fewer of them seem to have the time to prepare meals. Additionally, there has been a general global trend towards less structured meals, as stated by Euromonitor International, UK-based market research organisation.
In this scenario, Kazeem Nizam Al Deen, a branch manager based in Abu Dhabi, has decided to take over the cooking duties to help out at home.
He said: “Women may have been predominantly preparing meals in the old days because many of them were homemakers. But, now they work full time and support their families financially. It is our responsibility then to support them, too. No one is superior in a relationship, we are both equals.”
The Indian couple wanted to distribute the work, so the entire burden would not lie on the wife. With a personal interest in cooking, Nizam Al Deen volunteered to take over.
He said: “She prepares the breakfast, but then when I come home in the evening, around 8pm, I prepare dinner for both of us. During the week, we pick a day to buy the groceries and if we run short of any item, like bread or milk, I pick it up on the way home.”
This, however, doesn’t mean that his wife gets to put her feet up. She either washes the dishes or helps arrange the table. And, this system seems to work for them.
Peter Dignadice, a Filipino national who works for a maintenance company in Dubai, has adopted a similar system at home. Both spouses work full time and have divided household duties to ensure everything is done on time.
He said: “I wake up at 4am and prepare lunch for both of us and in the evening, I reach home at around 6.30pm and prepare dinner. Cooking was always my hobby, and so I took it on as a responsibility.”
His wife, Grace, works as a nanny and is out of the house most of the time. However, she picks up the groceries in advance to ensure that they never run out of ingredients.
In the past 30 years, men have started spending more time in the kitchen than they did before. On average, men in the US spend 49 minutes a day cooking, as stated in a report published by The Washington Post, US-based daily newspaper. This surge in men’s cooking at home is noticeable around the world, including in the UAE.
Maheen Abbas, a Pakistani national who works as a senior human resources professional in Abu Dhabi, predominantly cooks at home. But, her husband decides to take over once a week as a treat.
She said: “He loves to cook. It’s true that sometimes things will not be done the way I would do them, such as cleaning, but it is still a helping hand. We both work different shifts and so share the household responsibilities.”
When Abbas’ husband cooks, he chooses the dish and ingredients. The rest of the week, he helps out in many other ways. The couple has two children, so when Abbas is busy in the kitchen, her husband will help the children with their homework or get them ready for bed. This allows her to focus on other things.
She said: “Grocery shopping is a family adventure for us. We take the children along once a month, when we purchase many of the supplies in advance, and find this to be a good family bonding exercise.”
But, unlike in Abbas’ case, many households are now shifting to men picking up the required grocery. A survey conducted by Men’s Health, US-based men’s magazine, showed that 84 per cent of men in the US are now the primary grocery shoppers in their households. Are they doing a good job at it? Era Golwalkar, an IT specialist based in India didn’t seem to think so.
Last month, she put up a picture of a grocery list she had prepared for her husband on Twitter and it immediately caught the attention of many social media users. People wrote to her about going through similar situations. The list left no room for mistake, with minute details such as the spinach leaves shouldn’t have any holes in them.
In an interview with BBC, she was quoted as saying: “My husband was very supportive and was ready to learn cooking. But there was one problem ... he had no experience with anything related to cooking.”
When it was her husband’s turn to visit the supermarket, she would inevitably have to cook with substandard or spoiled products.
Suzy Sobhi, an Egyptian business owner based in Ras Al Khaimah, believes that this would happen because “women pay more attention to detail”.
She said: “Men may not notice if the vegetables are good or not. In my experience, women pay more attention. We can detect problems. My husband, for example, wouldn’t notice. It isn’t just for food, but when it comes to buying anything.”
In her household, she does all the grocery shopping and majority of the cooking. As a working mother, it can get busy at times, so her husband does step in to help with other chores. Additionally, on a day when she is stuck in meetings, her husband will “surprise me with a nice dinner”.
She said: “He knows I can get busy and takes care of our son. We work well together.”
Fatima Silmiya Shabbir, a Sri Lankan teacher based in Abu Dhabi, has had a different experience. If she gave her husband a shopping list, he usually buys unwanted things.
She said: “It would be either in an attempt to manage the budget or to try new things.”
To make matters simpler, the couple have hired a housekeeper to help out around the house. Their aim is to have home-cooked meals, especially for the sake of their children’s health. As a family, they avoid eating out as much as possible and so the grocery shopping occurs once a week.
Shabbir said: “I have a timetable for the maid, which helps her to prepare lunch and snacks for my children, while I am at work. When she first arrived, she couldn’t cook. So, I taught her and now she has the liberty to choose what to make, based on the produce in the refrigerator.”
According to a study conducted by VideoMining, US-based in-store behaviour analytics organisation, most trips to the supermarket are relatively small, with 68 per cent made for 10 items or fewer. Despite that and the fact that more men are now shopping for produce, female grocery shoppers spend more money per trip.
The same seems to apply to women shoppers in the UAE who opt to purchase produce on their own. Jhanzeb Yaseen, managing director of UAE-based Pakistan Supermarket Group, confirmed that majority of the grocery shopping in their stores is carried out by women.
He said: “Even the quantity differs when a woman shops. She will buy all the products that her family would need for a week, or even more. Men usually buy ingredients or commodities that are either running low or have a sudden requirement at home.”
In his experience, men also arrive to buy certain products that they have been affiliated with for years. Couples are also found shopping together after work hours. “This usually happens if it’s a newly married couple or the wife doesn’t have a driver’s licence,” he added.
So, is there more equality of chores, now? It looks like, it is getting better but there is a long way to go before we see a complete change in the mindset - for both men and women.