“This task is for true men”; “This is not suitable for women”; “This requires the strength of a real man”; “This needs the delicate hands of woman”. These are common expressions translating the idea behind the division of labour. How does this translate into the industry sector?

46. Construction, HICA (Cávado river hydroelectric plant). 1945-1964. Teófilo Rego Archive, Casa da Imagem – Manuel Leão Foundation, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.


Physical strength is used as one of the justifications for relinquishing some industrial work solely to men. Can this argument be accepted as grounds for women from some industrial sectors?

47. Workers from Vista Alegre carrying plates on their heads. Porcelain Factory Vista Alegre was the first industrial unit dedicated to the production of porcelain in Portugal. 1947-1997. Teófilo Rego Archive, Casa da Imagem – Manuel Leão Foundation, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

The gender division of labour is characterised by different contexts including the social, economic, and cultural landscapes but also the specific dimension of labour that is at stake.

How this division can be perceived in terms of production related tasks in a specific industry is, for example, that women will take on less managerial tasks and be involved in less skilled work – i. e. in a textile manufacturing enterprise, women would perform as seamstresses, men would perform as supervisors or managers.

The reasons why labour is divided in this way are, many times, rooted in: gender stereotypes and perceptions; the specific dimensions that women and men navigate in the industry sector context; corporate culture and traditions. A reshaping of how this division works, or shall work, might trigger conflict and, particularly in the case of women, abuse.

Although the term labour is often understood as referring to a professional context, the division of labour goes beyond that to encompass a multitude of life aspects.

For instance, in terms of reproductive tasks they are normally associated with “labour to be performed by women” and ranges from child-bearing, emotional labour, or unpaid care work.

In this broader understanding, labour division is characterised based on the responses to the following questions: who does what, when, how, and for how long?

With the increasing participation of women in the labour market, there is a cumulation of the different types of tasks, roles, jobs that they are called to perform, and not a redefinition of the traditional understandings of the division of labour that relegates those specific translations and partitions of labour to women.

For example, it might be the case that there was a change to include more women in a particular industry sector, i.e., mining extraction, for example, without that necessarily resulting in re-division of labour or a reshaping of the reproductive labour in their personal sphere.

Perceptions on characteristics of the division of labour are persistent. Because they often rely on discrimination, unperceived biases, social, cultural, and religious historical patterns, they are difficult to change, and this is one of the reasons why affirmative action is so important.
The EU policies and legal framework on affirmative action (for instance through family protection and benefits) and gender equality have been contributing to a slow but still important change of patterns. Although women still continue to perform most of the domestic and care work, men are increasing their share in both, particularly in the most industrialised nations.

Disrupting events often result in an uneven share of labour for women, as the COVID-19 pandemic showcases. The requirements of remote work for both women and men, while schools and childcare facilities were closed during the lockdown periods, resulted in an increased cumulation of professional and personal responsibilities for women. Data shows, for example, that women spent around 60 hours per week taking care of children when men spent around 35 hours.