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Wages for housework: An Analysis

Recently, Kamal Haasan’s political party, Makkal Needhi Maiam, proposed a due recognition to homemakers. The Political party included payment for homemaker’s domestic work as a part of their election manifesto.   

The proposal reopened the academic debate of Paying women for their domestic and care work. 

Payment to domestic care work was first demanded by the Third National Women’s Liberation Conference, in England in 1972. 

Is it new concept to India? 

No, it is not a new concept to India. 

    • In 2010, the National Housewives Association tried to seek recognition as a trade union. But the deputy registrar of trade unions rejected the proposal on the ground that housework is neither a trade nor an industry. As Home and market for centuries were considered as two distinct spheres. 
    • In 2012, the Ministry of Women and Child Development considered mandatory salary for housework done by wives. It considered the proposal that wives will receive salary from Man (Husbands). But the proposal never materialised. 
Need to recognise household work: 

FirstAccording to International Labour Organizationthere is a huge difference between the care responsibilities of women’s and men’s care. Women performs 76.2 percent of total hours of unpaid care workThis is three times more than similar work performed by men. In Asia and the Pacific regions, this figure rises to up to 80%. 

SecondHousework demands 24*7/365 days of effort and sacrifice. Domestic work is essential for vulnerable persons in the house such as older persons, sick persons, children, etc. Thus, it should be recognized as a profession with same entitlements as paid employment.  

Third, A large number of women living with domestic violence and other forms of cruelty. This is because they depend economically either on husband or on any other member of family. 

For these reasons in 1991, The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, recommended measurement and quantification of domestic activities performed by women. This is to highlight the economic contribution of women.  

Further read about: Paying women for domestic and care work  

Advantages in recognising Housework: 

Firstas per Shashi Tharoor, recognising housework will enhance women’s power and autonomyThis will lead to a recognition of the value of unpaid work performedIt will result in near universal basic income.  

Secondrecognising the housework will put homemakers at the same level as other professions such as doctors or office workers. Social protection benefits can be made available as a next step.  

Thirdit will improve gender equalityHousework salary will provide economic freedom and help women to live with dignity. 

FourthWomen will have the ability to choose the work they desireAfter recognition, women can take either office work or housework, based on the level of income. Thus, women can overcome time poverty (shortage of time available towards personal requirements such as leisure, recreational activities) and can achieve ‘work-life balance’.  

Fifth, it can lead to accurate National Income Accounting and GDP calculations of our economy. At present national income calculations not included the domestic care work performed. Thereby underestimating the GDP at present.

Lastly, recognising the housework will revolutionise the role of women in our society. 

Also read: Should there be wages for housework? 

Challenges associated with recognition of housework: 

First, the calculation of the monetary value of care work: In the Arun Kumar Agrawal v. National Insurance Company (2010) case, the Supreme Court acknowledged the contribution of the housewives as invaluable. The court also observed that it cannot be computed in terms of money.  

Second, if recognised Who will pay the money?  

    • If husbands are entitled to pay HouseworkIn this case, the total household income will remain the same unless the husband’s income is improvedThere is a high chance of housework is not getting paid to their wives. 
    • If the government is entitled to pay Housework: It will put an undue burden on State and there is a high chance of Fiscal Deficit targets were not met.  

Thirdit might create a new social norm that domestic and care work is ‘women’s work’as they are being paid for it. This will strengthen the patriarchal mindset and makes redistribution’ of the burden of unpaid work impossibleThis will reinforce the gendered division of roles. 

Fourth, Practical implementation is highly questionable. Legal recognition does not always mean protection. This is evident from the equal inheritance rights to daughters were not fulfilled to the majority of women in India. Apart from that one cannot determine the leave policy, Loss of Pay if wife went to her home town etc.  

Fifth, recognising domestic work will reduce women’s potential in education, talent etcMany talented women might be forced to perform household work as it is recognised. 

Sixth, it might lead to the commodification of housework and personal care, like that of surrogacy.  

Read about the alternatives for wages against housework 

Way forward: 

We need to strengthen awareness, implementation, and utilization of other existing provisions like;  

    • Right to reside in the marital home,   
    • Streedhan and Haq Mehr (amount entitled to Muslim women from her husband under marriage contract),   
    • Inheritance rights as daughters  
    • Free legal aid to women during the instances such as domestic violence, divorce etc. 

Apart from that, Husbands should support wives in their daily housework. To perform that better parenting is required by the present generation. Parenting should focus our boys to be sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers who would respect women and women’s rights. 

Women should be encouraged to reach their potential through quality education, opportunities of work, gender-sensitive and harassment-free workplaces. 

There is another idea better than recognising housework. It is the idea of transferring Universal Basic Income (UBI)(unconditional cash payment to low-income householdsto the account of women members of family. This will put the money directly in the hands of women and not stress government as significant as the recognition of housework. 

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