Issues in wages Against Housework and Alternatives to it

Synopsis- It is important to recognise the value of unpaid domestic work. However, creating value isn’t always about fair remuneration. A salary to women for domestic work will institutionalise the idea of men as ‘providers 

Introduction– Recently, Kamal Hasan’s party, Makkal Needhi Maiam, promised salaries to housewives as a part of its electoral campaign in Tamil Nadu.

Shashi Tharoor also said that monetising the services of women homemakers in society will enhance their power and autonomy and will lead to a recognition of the value of unpaid work. He also emphasised on creating near-universal basic income. 

Origin of demand for wages against housework-   

  • It was first raised at the third National Women’s Liberation conference in Manchester, England. The International Wages for Housework Campaign (IWFHC) was formed by Selma James in 1972. 
  • In India, the National Housewives Association, in 2010, tried to seek recognition as a trade union. But it was rejected on the ground that housework is not a trade or an industry.  
  • To empower women financially and help them live with dignity, in 2012, the government announced that it was considering mandating a salary for housework to wives, from husbands. But it never came to force. 

Status of majority of women in their family- 

  • Household works require efforts and sacrifices throughout 24/7, 365 days a year, still they face domestic violence and cruelty due to their economic dependence on others, mainly their husbands. 
  • As per the data of the NSSO, only about a quarter of men and boys above six years engaged in unpaid household chores, compared to over four-fifths of women. 
  • Every day, an average Indian male spends 1.5 hours per day in unpaid domestic work, compared to about five hours by a female. 

Consequences of the paid domestic work 

Recognising the value of unpaid domestic work is not always about fair remuneration. It may not lead to all positives; 

  • Men paying for wives’ domestic work could further enhance their sense of entitlement. It may also put an additional onus on women to perform. 
  • Ethically, buying domestic labour from wife will formalize the patriarchal Indian family where the position of men stems from their being “providers” in the relationship.  
  • Moreover, legal recognition does not always mean protection. For instance, despite legal recognition of equal inheritance rights, the majority of women are not receiving that.  

What are the alternatives to wages for housework? 

  • First- Dowry can be converted to the policy as it shows some gains received by daughters from the parental property (equal inheritance rights). It would be more effective than salary for household work. 
  • Second– Rather than creating a new provision of salary for housework, we need to strengthen awareness, implementation, and utilization of other existing provisions like; 
      • Right to reside in the marital home,  
      • Streedhan and haq mehr,  
      • Inheritance rights as daughters  
      • Free legal aid and maintenance in instances of violence and divorce 
  • Third- Women should be encouraged to reach their potential through quality education, access and opportunities of work, gender-sensitive and harassment-free workplaces. 
  • Fourth– Husbands should support wives in their daily housework and should not burden their wives for the work which they can do by themselves. 
  • Fifth– We should raise our boys to be brothers, sons, husbands, and fathers who would respect the women and will fight for their rights. 

Way Forward 

Just as we do not want women to commodify their reproductive services and we banned commercial surrogacy in the country. On similar lines, we should not allow the commodification of housework and personal care. 

Once the above-given conditions are assured to the women, they will be able to exercise freedom for themselves and will be able to decide whether to work inside or outside of the home.

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