Friday, January 18, 2013
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Households chores are increasingly being devalued as everything gets judged in monetary terms. Can a salary for home maker ensure greater equality?
Village women carrying fuelwood back to their homes. Around 26 per cent rural women are engaged in some economic activity. Source: GOI Monitor

Thousands of years have passed, and a woman’s existence is still verified by that of a male in her life. We’ve all heard of the famous saying – “Behind ever successful man is a woman”, and people often say it in passing without realising its significance. Women have been standing strong behind their men for eons now, yet they are often ignored and overlooked as invisible nurturers and home makers. While men go out putting up industries, building dams, devising solutions to the world's problems, it's the women who are providing the intangible but definite support by taking over the thankless job of cooking, cleaning, raising children et al.

Being a home maker is being a member of the largest single occupation in our country. But in the modern world devoted to income and consumption, the value attached to these works is declining. It is commonly believed that if money can't be made from a task (not the money saved), it is worthless. The stigmatisation of women as housewives reached a new level when the Census of 2001 clubbed them with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners, under the “economically non-productive” category. The logic behind this heinous label was that none of these people directly contribute to the society.

Census of 2001 clubbed housewives with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners, under the “economically non-productive” category. The logic behind this heinous label was that none of these people directly contribute to the society.

But are those women falling in the category of “economically-productive” any better than their counterparts? Even if we accept the definition of productive economic activity thrusted by the scholars, women are making a steady contribution to India's economy but are routinely subjected to lower wages and lesser choices than men.

When it comes to money 

According to a recent report, 'Women and Men in India 2012', released by the Union Ministry of Statistics, women participation in economic activity in 2009-10 stood at 26.1 per cent in rural areas and 13.8 per cent in cities. Himachal Pradesh had the maximum share of rural women at 46.8 per cent while cities of Mizoram registered the highest of 28.8 per cent participation in the country. However, only 20.4 per cent of all these working women were employed in organised sector. Rural sector offered varied choices with 55.7 per cent of working women found to be self-employed, presumably toiling in self-owned farms or rearing livestock. The share of women under the Swarnjayanti Gram Swarojgaar Yojna (SGSY), a government scheme for self-help groups, stood at 69.4 per cent in 2011‐12.

Women participation in economic activity in 2009-10 stood at 26.1 % in rural areas and 13.8 % in cities. Himachal Pradesh had the maximum share of rural women at 46.8 % while Mizoram's cities registered the highest urban national participation of 28.8 %. 

Around 40 per cent of rural working women worked as casual labourers and 4.4 per cent were involved in regular wage/salaried employment in 2009-10. However, despite suitable laws, women are still being discriminated when it comes to wages. Compared to Rs 249.15 average daily wage received by men in rural areas, women got just Rs 155.87 in 2009-10. This scene was comparatively better, but not ideal, in cities where women received Rs 308.79 against Rs 377.16 for men.

Male members of a family also exercise substantial control in decision making. Indian women only take 18.65 per cent decisions related to purchase of major household items despite being majorily responsible for its upkeep. Even when it comes to her own healthcare, a woman decides only in 18.2 per cent cases, says the National Family Health Survey–III  (2005‐06). On the issue of paying a visit to her family or relatives, it's the man of the house who decides 89 per cent of the time. Needless to say here that housewives or those falling outside the employment net defined by policy makers are the most neglected as 21.6 per cent of them are not involved in any decision making in their families.

Even when it comes to her own healthcare, a woman decides only in 18.2 per cent cases, says the National Family Health Survey–III  (2005‐06). On the issue of paying a visit to her family or relatives, it's the man of the house who decides 89 per cent of the time

Giving currency to housework

A recent proposal by the Women and Child Development Ministry to make men pay housewives for their work offers a new look but has gaping holes. Denmark, Norway and Sweden are the only countries with a history of such models based on calculation of average income for unmarried women and widows in various age groups. But that was prior to World War II and the mechanism has not been tested since.

A major issue is how will the household chores be quantified? Will child care be measured by the number of diapers changed and homework completed or the life skills and positive values imparted to the kids? Will the money earn woman respect or further degrade her status vis-a-vis man who may then find it valid to “boss around”? Also, this may further assert the much deplored tag of a ‘dependent’ on women leading to more cases of sex-selective abortions, domestic violence and the ever prevalent cold shoulders women receive. Most housewives, the docile do-gooders as they are, would refuse to be paid preferring instead the money be used for meeting daily expenses of the family.

How will the household chores be quantified? Will child care be measured by the number of diapers changed and homework completed or the life skills and positive values imparted to the kids? Will the money earn woman respect or further degrade her status vis-a-vis man who may then find it valid to “boss around”?

The initiative may definitely attach more value to household work but only symbolically. The real gender parity can only be realised when we challenge the traditional provider, nurturer roles men and women are cast in. There are many educated women who are not allowed to work after marriage. Not only this deprives them of the freedom of choice but also the respect that comes with money in today's world.

More women out on the streets, reclaiming public spaces will also lead to enhanced sense of security. On the other hand, there are several stay-at-home husbands nowadays who are willingly exchanging responsibilities with their partners but they are confined to the minority of upper class working couples. If monetary value is attached to household chores, there may be many more men inclined to shift roles. But at this juncture, all this seems utopian. The job of a home maker will only gain appreciation when the society actually starts treating woman as an equal partner to man, not a secondary being. We also need to redefine the notion that a woman is blessed in her capacity as a servant to her 'Swami'.

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