Passing it on

Keeping children fed and houses clean is part of a global care chain that can be lonely and emotionally conflicted, with the burden disproportionately carried by women. This story shows how it works.

Images: Sindu Sivayogam

People across the world struggle to keep on top of their paid work and unpaid domestic duties. Some have the option of freeing up time by outsourcing work to others – often poorer or racialized women – who can in turn struggle to meet their own domestic and familial responsibilities and continue the transfer on to others. These global care chains, which have been likened to a ‘global pyramid scheme’, can span great distances, within countries and across borders.

Angela is struggling to get everything done. She’s under a lot of stress at work; she has just been made a consultant doctor at a London hospital. Trying to make sure her two kids are well looked after, keeping the house clean and everyone fed, on top of looking after her elderly father who has just moved in, is too much. Her partner, Simon, ‘helps out’ around his also demanding work schedule, but ultimately, making sure everything is covered falls to Angela and the stress is keeping her awake at night. She’s at breaking point.

Images: Sindu Sivayogam

Aisha is from a small village in South India. She left when her two children Rishaan and Sita were still small. She and her husband were struggling financially and Aisha was offered a job as a nanny and housekeeper in Delhi, over 2,000 kilometres away. After much discussion, they decided that she should go for it – hopefully it wouldn’t be for too long.

Aisha’s employers decided to move to London four years ago and she moved with them. She still cleans for this family at weekends but now she will be working for Angela and Simon during the week.

Rishaan and Sita are almost teenagers now and Aisha is proud that she has been able to send money for them to go to school and also to help out her sister’s family who have been looking after them for all these years.

Images: Sindu Sivayogam

Aisha likes many things about her job, and loves the children, but she would give anything to help her own kids with their homework sometimes. Visa restrictions and the cost of living mean that bringing her family to London is not an option.

When she can she calls or writes home to her children and to her sister, Sweta. Smells or sounds sometimes remind her of home but it also feels increasingly far away.

Sweta loves Aisha’s kids like her own but looking after five children, as well as all her other duties, is not easy. She is grateful to her sister for sacrificing so much to help support the family but wonders if she realizes how hard things are for Sweta. Sometimes she wishes she could travel and see some of the things that Aisha sees. Sweta is exhausted and never gets any time to herself.