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HomeEconomyWomen's work recognition or policy shortcut? MPNRC News
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Women’s work recognition or policy shortcut? MPNRC News

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Women’s work recognition or policy shortcut?

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Due to the traditional division of labour, women and girls mainly perform unpaid household chores such as cooking, cleaning and caregiving. According to a recent National Statistical Office report on time use in India, women spend about 5 hours (299 minutes) per day on “unpaid domestic services for members of the household”. Men, on the other hand, spend about 1.5 hours (97 minutes) on it. Time distribution on “unpaid care services for household members” also exposed the disproportionate burden of unpaid work and emotional labor on women.

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The unpaid work done by women is the cornerstone of our society and plays an essential role in supporting personal and social well-being. Despite this, women’s unpaid work in the household is not recognized in the country’s national accounts. As a result, there is a serious underestimation of women’s work and a generally narrow view.

The unpaid work done by women is the cornerstone of our society and plays an essential role in supporting personal and social well-being.

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In recent times, several political leaders have highlighted the need for remuneration for women’s unpaid household and caregiving tasks. Makkal Nidhi Mayyam, a regional political party in India, in its manifesto for the 2021 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, promised wages for the housework done by housewives. In the 2021 Assam Legislative Assembly election, the Indian National Congress promised to provide ₹2000 per month to each housewife through the ‘Ghrihini Samman’ scheme. These announcements have brought to the fore discussions on the effectiveness of the wage-for-homework policy. It is argued that such a policy would increase the recognition of women’s work every day. Recently, the Supreme Court of India also noted that providing wages for unpaid domestic work is a step towards overcoming the notion that a housewife does not add economic value to the household.

While this policy appears to be well thought out, several gaps remain that could potentially reverse the benefits it is expected to achieve.

Wages for homework: gaps and limits

One of the challenges with the policy providing women with cash incentives for homework is that it reinforces existing gender roles. The burden of unpaid household and caregiving work is already on women and girls. A scheme that rewards women for this work risks further institutionalizing women’s roles as caregivers and men’s roles as earners.

The burden of unpaid household and caregiving work is already on women and girls. A scheme that rewards women for this work risks further institutionalizing women’s roles as caregivers and men’s roles as earners.

In India, women’s participation in paid work remains low, despite economic growth in recent decades. According to estimates from the latest annual Periodic Labor Force Survey, only 28.7% of women aged 15 and above were part of the workforce, compared to 73% of men in the same age group. The unpaid workload at home keeps most women from accessing the job opportunities available. The wage-for-home work policy makes no provision for redistribution of unpaid work at home and sharing it equally between men and women. As a result, this policy may encourage gender division of labor and fulfill norms that restrict women within households.

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In a patriarchal society, women’s paid work is considered to be of lower social status. Therefore, with increasing household income, women replace paid work outside the home with status-producing activities such as taking care of children, the elderly, and religious activities. Therefore, lack of financial resources and unavailability of domestic help are not the only reasons women engage in unpaid work at home. While a policy that pays for housework could increase the visibility of women’s work, it is unlikely to empower them to choose what kind of work they want to engage in.

Additionally, cash transfer schemes cannot be considered a silver bullet for solving the problem of disproportionate distribution of unpaid work. Therefore, a policy such as wages for housework cannot be used to replace investment in essential public services to reduce the unpaid workload on women.

Furthermore, there is no mechanism in place to ensure how these wages will be used. While cash transfers can be made to women, this does not mean that women will have the ability to exercise agency over household spending decisions.

Lastly, doubts remain as to how the wages paid to housewives will be calculated. For example, the type of unpaid domestic work women do in urban India is different from that of their rural counterparts. The nature of unpaid household work also changes with changes in household size and income levels.

way forward

While there remain many gaps in the wage policy for housework, it is interesting to note that the invisible work of women is becoming a relevant issue for discussion by politicians and policy makers. It is now widely recognized that the disproportionate burden of unpaid domestic work acts as a hindrance to women’s economic empowerment. In this context, the provision of remuneration to housewives is seen as one of the ways in which this work can be recognized and act as a tool for financial empowerment.

While such a policy may not give women access to paid work in some form of social security, it is necessary to ensure that the policy does not affect existing gender roles. Given the restrictions on the movement of women outside the home, wages for housework may justify keeping women away from paid opportunities. Therefore, such a scheme cannot be implemented as a substitute for the public investment required to redistribute the burden of unpaid household and caregiving work.

For example, Sulabh crches will reduce the time and energy women spend on child care. Similarly, government schemes to ensure availability of drinking water and cooking gas will reduce the time for women to collect water and firewood. These policies will ensure that the burden of women is really reduced. Additionally, steps to ensure women’s property and property rights can help provide them with financial security. Such a move could be used to ensure that the contribution of women in the household is recognized.

Despite the shortcomings, the promise of wages for housework has opened a much needed dialogue on the unrecognized and devalued work of women. It has also brought gender-unequal family structure to the fore.

Neha Chauhan is a Research Associate SPRF India, Headquartered in New Delhi, SPRF is a youth policy think tank seeking to make public policy research holistic and accessible. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.

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