Is Paid Housework a Viable Solution?

Analyzing the time-use data, The OECD Development Report states that every minute more that a woman spends on unpaid care work represents one minute less that she could be potentially spending on market-related activities or investing in her educational and vocational skills. The unpaid care work, which keeps a household running, is the hidden engine for the economies, businesses, and societies. However, this work is undervalued and unaccounted for and is done majorly by women. Activities like cooking, cleaning, laundry, child and elderly care, fetching water and food, etc., constitute unpaid care work. It is unrecognized and is considered an obligation for women.

The patriarchal Indian household only recognizes the work done by men. On the other hand, women are conditioned to servitude and marriage from a very young age. The rights of women are narrowed down to that of service and maintenance. Women provide a vast majority of unpaid care work in India, spending 299 minutes a day on domestic services compared to just 97 minutes spent by men, according to the NSS report of 2019. The female labour force participation is falling drastically, from 34% in 2006 to 24.6% in 2020. We can attribute various reasons for this fall like the wage gap, sexual harassment in workplaces, lack of skills and education, etc. But most importantly, the deep-rooted gender social norms where men don’t help out in the household force women to drop out of the workplace. Another study by OECD said that Indian men spend more time eating, sleeping, and watching television than Indian women. Thus, it is vital to recognize the value of unpaid domestic work and give women the dignity they deserve.

Recent elections in Tamil Nadu, Assam, West Bengal, and Kerala saw political parties including proposals for cash incentives to homemakers within their manifestos. This proposal spurred a lot of debate, and several points of view were discussed. While proper compensation to homemakers is long overdue, it isn’t just black and white. This solution lies in a grey area as it pertains to many diverse economic and social dimensions.
When learning about how the GDP can be a deceptive metric to measure the economic well-being of its citizens, every economics student comes across the example of how domestic work is dismissed as it neither generates goods nor services for the economy. By recognizing unpaid labour as genuine work, India will benefit in GDP and empower its women. Women who work with their husbands as artisans, farmers, etc., should be recognized and compensated. If women’s work is given value, India’s GDP will rise infinitely.

It’s time we give women the right to her own money and not the money granted to her by the husband’s goodness. Women are subjected to years of drudgery. There is no way one can monetize care and nurture, but compensation for household chores is due. A woman will have a sense of power and accomplishment if she gets her share for working as a homemaker all her life. When women get the right to their own money, instances of domestic violence will decrease as the ability of the women to leave will increase.

As soon as activities like cooking, cleaning, tailoring, which are seen as women’s jobs inside the home, get monetized, men acquire these spaces. So, can we say that if a policy providing compensation to homemakers is implemented, more men will take up household work, provided the state is paying?

Several questions arise while considering the viability of salaries to homemakers. Who will provide this compensation? How can we meticulously calculate the worth of a woman’s unpaid work? “Women don’t benefit as much from cash transfers as the decision of expenditure is likely to be made by men,” said Kuljit Kaur, Secretary-General of All India Woman’s Conference. How will we ensure that the money is not taken away by the husband? We cannot fail to look at the marginalized section of the population that is vulnerable to dowry practices and domestic violence. How will such a policy impact them? We have to consider the gender roles, customs, and traditions whose burden falls on the women.

It is necessary to recognize women’s unpaid labour, but such a policy might entrench existing gender norms. It will institutionalize the idea of men as providers and confine women to the stereotypical roles of homemaking. It can further lead to decreased female labour force participation and their absence from the workplace. To choose between the public or the household or to do both is something this policy will not look after.

Reducing women’s burden and targetting the behaviour of men towards housework will be a better policy. Policies that encourage men and women to share household responsibilities are advocated. Before we talk about the compensation of homemakers, the government should ensure minimum and equal wages to women at the workplace, a safe working environment, and formal jobs. Think about providing facilities like cooking gas cylinders, accessible and feasible child care centres, infrastructure and amenities near the villages, etc., to reduce the burden on women. We need to break down the patriarchal structures that put men above women. India, as a society, is too dependent on the government and its policies to bring about a change. Men shouldn’t need a policy to understand their responsibility towards housework and uphold the women’s dignity for their work.

Good intentions do not solely lead to the creation of sound policies. The above-mentioned grey area represents the balance that policymakers must achieve to bring about change in a sustainable form. Every policy must start from the ground up and consider the many dimensions that it will undoubtedly affect. Our goal does not pertain to the easy short-term solution but one that creates change and continues to do so as per society’s needs.

This article is written by Sanjana Kapoor; an incoming MPP student at Kautilya School of Public Policy.


The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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