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The Support Women Provide Is Still Undervalued

03/12/2016 08:01 EST | Updated 03/13/2017 05:12 EDT
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By Suruthi Ragulan, Women's Sexual Health Coordinator, Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention

I've been having a rough year.

I know we're barely into our third month of 2016 and it's still too early to make that call, but it feels painfully accurate to me. And as someone who prides herself on being a stoic and a (sometimes) rational person, these sudden feelings of loss feel so alien.

Aside from those teenage years where the lethal combination of high school combined with hormones created an emotional roller coaster so many adults are familiar with, I have mostly remained detached, venturing only into emotional territory long enough to wax poetic about a favourite celebrity or defend my never-ending love of Justin Bieber's newest album.

For so long I've prided myself on being someone who didn't display the typical emotionality that I associate with women. Now, that I have suddenly been forced to face my own emotional vulnerabilities it's been a hard journey. For the first time, I seem to require an emotional sherpa of sorts and it is the women in my life who have been able to provide an empathetic ear, advice and valuable insights. Their support has been vital to me and through this process I have realized how much work relating to another person on such an intimate level can be.

"Work" may seem like too callous a word for the act of helping another individual, but the support that women provide has been overlooked for too long. Bell Hooks recently posed the question, "has feminism failed women inside the home?" While women have made incredible strides in the workplace, they still bear the brunt of a gendered division of labour in their interpersonal relationships, and it extends way past who's going to wash up the dishes.

Overwhelmingly, women are the ones who help men make sense of their emotions, relationships and so often that work is overlooked. Society inherently ascribes women all the caring and nurturing qualities that are valuable in doing this emotional work, but it refuses to see this as a valuable contribution.

The impact is that women are simultaneously balancing extremely high expectations while also being devalued for what is seen as an innately feminine skill set. Women are constantly asked to weigh in on the personal trials and tribulations that the men in their lives face. We're all familiar with the sitcom trope of the chatty wife working with her silent and brooding husband to nurture some sort of emotional bond, a labour intensive task that is often met with little recognition or reward, and feminist movements are starting to take notice.

Not only are more women working outside the home, but they are also responsible for helping the men in their lives sift through their emotional issues with little recognition, compensation or support for themselves. In late 2015 #GiveYourMoneyToWomen went viral, asking men to take stock of all the ways that they demanded attention and care and to provide much-needed remuneration.

Jess Zimmerman captures this sentiment perfectly in her piece "Where's My Cut?" writing, "Men like to act as if commanding women's attention is their birthright, their natural due, and they are rarely contradicted. It's a radical act to refuse them that attention. It's even more radical to propose that if they want it so f***ing much, they can buy it."

So, what does this mean for the women that I work with everyday? In doing frontline HIV education, it is no surprise that women reveal all the different ways in which they are stretched to their limits. Each year, International Women's Day offers us the opportunity to take stock of how much progress women in communities all around the world have made, and how much further we have to go. As we continue to fight against ingrained patriarchal structures that constrain us all, it is important that we advocate for increased recognition and a shared division of labour across all spheres including our emotional lives.

The HIV sector both in Canada and globally has long recognized that the ways that women navigate their personal relationships has a significant impact on risk. Shifting the dialogue to recognize how emotional vulnerability is as equally important as the physical is crucial to addressing gendered risk, as well as helping both ourselves and others develop crucial and healthy coping mechanisms.

Suruthi Ragulan is the Women's Sexual Health Coordinator at the Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention. She has over five years of experience working with diverse communities to develop tailored public health interventions both locally and abroad.

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This blog is part of an International Women's Day series produced by the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) in recognition of International Women's Day 2016 (March 8). The series runs during the week of March 7, 2016 and will feature a selection of blogs written by our member and partner organizations who will share their broad range. Each provides their perspective and their insight on what must be done to achieve UN Women's campaign of "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality" as we embark on the race to meet our 2030 Goals for Sustainable Development.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog series are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ICAD.