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‘Housework should be compensated’ Court rules wife deserves R4m for 25 years of domestic work

Housewives are often thought to be glamorous, rich and free from the stresses of the modern workplace.

However, while true to an extent for the wealthy, other housewives have housework to do every day and the responsibility of taking care of children is often left to them.

Feminists have long argued that housework and childcare, often left to women, constitutes “real work” and that it should be compensated.

“Husbands are more likely to share in more pleasurable aspects of childcare and housework such as playing with children at weekends and in the evenings,” wrote British sociologist and feminist Anne Oakley in 1974.

Prominent US feminist bell hooks wrote in 2010 that masses of women felt angry because they were encouraged by feminist thinking to believe they would find liberation in the workforce; but mostly found that they work long hours at home and long hours at the job.

“No matter her class the woman who stayed at home working as a housewife was often isolated, lonely, and depressed. While most workers do not feel secure at work, whether they are male or female, they do feel part of something larger than themselves.

“While problems at home cause greater stress and are difficult to solve, those in the workplace are shared by everyone, and the attempt to find solutions is not an isolated one,” wrote hooks.

A businessman was recently said to have been ordered by a Spanish court to pay his ex-wife €204 000 (about R4 million) as compensation for unpaid domestic labour done in the home during their 25-year marriage.

The pair married in 1995 and the woman reportedly spent 25 years supporting her entrepreneur husband and caring for their two children. She is said to have filed for divorce in 2020. They allegedly signed an asset separation agreement, which stated that each spouse kept exclusive ownership of property accumulated during the marriage.

“She was his shadow, working behind him so that he would grow professionally and become something. She spent all that time focusing on her family. In order for her husband to focus on his business projects, she stayed with the girls, and they never hired any outside help,” the woman’s lawyer, Marta Fuentes, was quoted as saying in court.

This family moved several times, reportedly because of the husband’s business demands.

However, when he refused to pay for her 16-year-old daughter’s higher education, forcing her to work to pay her tuition, the wife reached breaking point.

She reportedly decided to file a compensation suit in December 2020. “She, like many other women, has spent her entire working life dedicated to her daughters while her husband had time to develop his professional career.

“And it is important that this is recognised, that the time they (women) have dedicated to their family and not to their professional life has value,” her lawyer was quoted saying.

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