Paying women for domestic and care work

Synopsis: Paying women for domestic and care work will not reduce or redistribute their burden. It will only lead to mere recognition of their efforts.


  • Women bear a disproportionately high burden of unpaid domestic work and care work in India.
  • According to the all-India Time Use Survey (2019) data, females bear more than 83% of the burden of domestic and care work both in Tamil Nadu and India.
  • To end this disparity, recently, Kamal Haasan’s political party, Makkal Needhi Maiam, proposed that homemakers should get due recognition through payment for their work at home.
  • This proposal has generated curiosity and reopened the unsettled academic debate of Paying women for domestic and care work.

Can the proposed policy address the huge gender disparity in unpaid care work?

Evaluation of Makkal Needhi Maiam party’s proposal reveals that though it will be a progressive step, it has the risk of furthering the gender disparity in unpaid work within homes.

  • According to economist Diane Elson (2017), the public policy should aim at closing the huge gender gap in unpaid domestic and care work through ‘recognition, reduction and redistribution’ (Triple-R).
  • The Makkal Needhi Maiam party’s proposal only satisfies the first component of Triple-R, that is ‘recognition’.
  • Since it is women who predominantly carry out unpaid domestic and care activities, often at the expense of their employment prospects and health, the monetary reward is a recognition of their contribution to the well-being of the household and the opportunities forgone by women. The proposal appears progressive, for this reason.

However, the proposal also has the potential to increase women’s burden. This is because

  • Firstly, paying monetary benefits will endorse the social norm that domestic and care work are ‘women’s work’, for which they are being paid.
  • Secondly, paying monetary benefits for women makes redistribution’ of the burden of unpaid work impossible. This is because, paying women for domestic and care work will give Rights to men that women are bound to do these unpaid activities as they are being compensated.
  • Instead of incentivising men to participate more in household work and reducing women’s burden by redistributing the responsibility, the current proposal might do the opposite.

The electoral promise of Paying women for domestic and care work cannot possibly address the ‘strategic’ gender needs of reducing and redistributing women’s burden. What is needed is to Incentivise men, to participate more and spend longer hours in sharing unpaid work.

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