'Not just women's work': Brothers start all-male domestic cleaning agency in China

Twin brothers in China have set up an all-male domestic worker agency to challenge widespread gender bias about housework in a country where household chores are still largely seen as a woman’s responsibility.

Believing that men should be encouraged to participate more in domestic work, Shao Qiang and Shao Gang, aged 32, started a home cleaning service business in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, eastern China, a year ago and hired a group of men with an average age of 25.

Aiming to change an industry that’s long been dominated by women, mostly middle-aged or older, Shao Qiang said his team focuses on deep cleaning for new homes and second-hand homes before the owner moves in, which is more physically demanding.

“It’s unfair that it’s always a woman’s job to clean the house. I think it’s a task that both genders should shoulder together,” he told the South China Morning Post.

Charging prices between 25 yuan (S$5.11) and 45 yuan per square metre, more than double the price charged by traditional house cleaners, Shao Qiang said his company, named Shenshi Domestic Help, hired young men because it was a physically demanding job with high standards.

Promising to: “clean everything from dust on the lights to stubborn toilet stains and leave no dirty corner in the house”, Shao Qiang said it normally takes three men nine hours to clean a 100-square metre home.

The most expensive order they have received so far was a 2,500-square metre villa that took a dozen people three days to clean, he said. The owner paid 90,000 yuan for the work.

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While domestic work remains a job that many people in China see as “indecent and low”, Shao Qiang said the hiring of young male workers will help change occupational stereotypes.

“It’s tiring and dirty, but it doesn’t specifically belong to women. I hope this will stop some people from labelling married women as homemakers and babysitters,” he said.

Li Daofang, a woman in her 50s who has been a domestic worker in Shanghai for over a decade, said so far she hasn’t met a male counterpart in the industry.

“I think either men or women can do housework, whether as a job or for unpaid work at home,” she said.

“I don’t mind if men join the sector. Everyone gets paid for their capability. For unpaid domestic work at home, I think men really need to do more. Women are bearing too much of the burden,” she said.

Over 70 per cent of domestic workers in the mainland Chinese market are female, and nearly half of them are aged above 45, according to a survey by China’s leading online classifieds marketplace in 2020.

When it comes to individual households, Chinese men did less than a third of the amount of housework women did, according to a national survey on how people use their time in 2018.

Many women are facing increased pressure to take care of their families in recent years as the coronavirus pandemic broke, according to a report by recruitment website in May this year.

On average, working women in mainland China spent 32 more minutes on housework and childcare than last year, it found.

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This article was first published in South China Morning Post.