Housewives and disparate Census statistics

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To help inform what was to be this week’ topic in this space for this week, I casually asked an officer of the Central Statistical Office (CSO) how many housewives are there in Trinidad and Tobago. Blame the answer for this digression. “You would have to look under female-headed households,” the CSO officer said, when I asked where I may find such data in the CSO database. The response puzzled me so I am using this space to mull it over, given that CSO is currently conducting its once-in-a-decade national census. The original topic was supposed to be on our entertainment services, but not unlike calypsonian Stalin’s ‘Dorothy’, it will have to wait.
Puzzle 1. Clearly, ‘female-headed households’ – which data suggests can be anywhere between ten to 42 percent for the Caribbean – is not synonymous with ‘housewives’. Females who head households are breadwinners for their homes. In this home-based activity of writing this column – (clothes are in the washer and lunch is in on the stove too!) – consulting Google beats finding a dictionary, but both modes would define housewife as “a married woman who is not employed outside the home”.
It implies that as breadwinners, females who head households are employed in an activity, other than as a housewife – whether as breadwinners in an activity that keeps them in or takes them away from home. If in addition to their in- or out- of home breadwinning capacity, they are the home’s chief cook and bottlewasher, managing and doing house work, they may also be called housewives, but (according to the official definitions) only if they are married.
Modern gender relations now define “husbands who choose to stay at home instead of working” as househusbands. I have not been able to ascertain whether there is a term for unmarried or single women, or unmarried single men, who are not employed outside the home.
That definition though not clear, implies that a married woman who is not employed outside the home is, by default, employed in the home. The women’s movement has lobbied that housewifery is an occupation with equivalent economic/dollar value, in addition to esoterical, social value etc. Although they recognise in real terms the ‘dollar value’ of love, nurture, care might be immeasurable they contend that house/domestic work as an activity that contributes to the economy and family and national income.
The informal practice of an allowance to housewives by some breadwinning husbands’ may be translated as the equivalent of a salary (though often much under the value of what may be considered a fair month’s wages). This is becoming somewhat systemized mainly in the developed world and has extended to benefits (as paternity leave), perhaps because many workplaces accept female workers. Women can now, generally, choose or not choose, to be housewives. Growing numbers of househusbands, including those who choose to stay at home, as well as those who cannot find work, have benefitted from this practice of an allowance.
I have said all that to say that CSO’s statistics for female-headed households is the same statistics for housewives, and Trinidad and Tobago statistics for housewives, let alone desperate ones, it seems, do not exist.
Puzzle 2: If one were to move out of CSO’s gender categorisation, into its economic activity/occupation category, the dilemma is similar. If I had persisted questioning, I am sure the statistician would have referred me in my search for the numbers of housewives in Trinidad and Tobago to statistics for domestic workers. But domestic worker is also not synonymous with housewife. Google’s magi churns out that a domestic worker is employed within the employer’s household. To state the almost obvious, domestics are not necessarily the wives in the home; and the perhaps less obvious, are not necessarily female.
In this way those of us attempting to factor in women’s contributions to society are hindered by lack of what is called ‘gender disaggregated data’ (information that define differences in the way males and females impact on and are affected by various activities/decisions whether at micro (household/community) or macro (national/international) levels. That is why these has been moves to increasingly use tools of gender sensitive analysis that capture stereotyping which can result in skewed statistics, skewed analysis and skewed representation and analysis of social/economic and other realities. (So when one talks of female-headed households, for instance, one does not project stereotypical beliefs that that is the same as housewives; or that domestics are only females.)
CSO’s webpage boasts of a new national socio-economic database facility called cTTInfo. This it claims “aims to improve capacity to manage and access reliable gender disaggregated data to facilitate evidence-based planning and inform the allocation of budgetary resources.” It links to a page with a logo of the Ministry of Planning, Housing and Development, the former title of what now is the Ministry of Planning, Economic and Social Restructuring and Gender Affairs. Apart from the misnomer, I have not yet been able to access gender-disaggregated data from this tool.
For reasons similar to those detailed above, the Network of NGOs recommended, and it was accepted, that the Gender ministerial portfolio be placed in the ministry responsible for planning, and hence CSO activities. As CSO begins the census that will inform analyses, planning, decision, policy-making, and governance directions towards 2020 and beyond, its data-gathering and analyse may have to be retailored to be more relevant to changing evolving social realities and needs. Gender disaggregation and gender-sensitive analyses are part of that process.
Certainly, such awareness would have spared readers this, and instead offered perhaps more pleasurable reading about home entertainment in the style of the TV soap, Desperate Housewives – surely much more befitting the upcoming season of bacchanalia. But stay tuned.

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