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Who does the work in sustainable households? A time and gender analysis in New South Wales, Australia

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Households in the affluent West have become an important target of government and NGO campaigns to encourage more environmentally sustainable behaviours, but there has been little research into the gender implications of such policies. This article investigates the role of gender and time in the sustainability practices of six heterosexual households with young children, committed participants in the Sustainable Illawarra Super Challenge programme in 2009. Women spent more total time on sustainable practices, and did so more often. Men's contributions related mostly to gardening and transport, in longer blocks of time. In these households, sustainability became a highly gendered practice because of the different roles in homemaking. Women resisted constructions of themselves as being closer to nature, and shouldered expectations of sustainability as part of their roles as mothers and household managers. They experienced time as overlapping and fragmented, with no distinction between work and leisure. Men contributed to sustainable practices mainly through activities understood as leisure, in longer blocks of time. Our temporality lens also illustrates the gendered ways that old practices become deroutinised and new practices reroutinised. While men were often responsible for the labour and upfront time required to start or research a project, the responsibility of everyday implementation and habit-changing commonly fell to women. These findings illustrate how gendered analyses help identify both opportunities for, and constraints against, change towards sustainability. Opportunities include the strong connections between both mothers' and fathers' understanding of good parenting and the importance they attach to household sustainability. Constraints include the temporal challenges faced by households, and how these interact with wider structural and labour roles.
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Keywords: New South Wales; Nueva Gales del Sur; cambio climático; climate change; domestic labour; sustainability; sustentabilidad; temporalidad; temporality; trabajo doméstico

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: School of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, University of Wollongong, Wollongong, 2522, Australia

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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