–Kakali Das |
Kamal Hassan, an actor turned politician in Tamil Nadu had suggested paying housewives for doing their job as an idea whose time has truly come, and said “We shall ensure it”, in his vision documentary. Shashi Tharoor responded to that and said “I welcome Kamal Hassan’s idea of recognising housework as a salaried profession with the state government paying a monthly wage for homemakers. This will recognise and monetise the services of women homemakers in society to enhance their power and autonomy and create near universal basic income”.
The idea is of placing a value on the work done by women in a home, and there are different aspects to this. What happens when there is a breakdown of that marriage or divorce? What is a woman entitled to after 10, 15, 20 or 30 years after working day in and day out in their homes and not having anything to show for it? If she were, for argument’s sake, paid a salary, she would have some money in her account, some money that she be entitled to.
The other point that Shashi Tharoor has brought up is about universal basic income. There are two arguments about whether or not this valuation should be paid by the state or the central government or by the household, and would that ensure the fact that every individual has a certain individual income that they are making. The second is – how would one value this kind of work? And in that case does the value go up based on the household, the size of the home, the income of the family? If a woman is a home maker in a wealthy family, should she be paid more or if she is someone of a not so wealthy family, should it be different for her?
On being asked whether or not it is a viable idea, Abha Singh, Lawyer and Activist said, “As a woman, I feel it’s definitely a good idea because we know the amount of unpaid work that the homemakers do in the house, the government can quantify it by paying them, but as a lawyer, I would say it is quantified when the government wants to pay a compensation. There have been cases in the motor vehicle tribunal act where women had died during accident and the compensation had to be paid. That time the notional compensation was calculated and I was shocked to find what was calculated in the LataWadhwa case in 2001 – the notional income of a housewife was Rs.3000, and now in the latest order they calculated that to be Rs. 6000. So the attempt of equating her notional income to that of a domestic income is I think very unfair, and that needs to be looked it”.
Whenever there is an accident and the compensation being decided by court, there are arguments saying ‘this person was a doctor and was making hefty amount of money every year and this was what the projected income would have been had he been alive, hence a certain sum should the compensation’, but if the victim in question was a housewife, it’s considered as an unskilled labour and thus possess much lower value attached to that person’s life.
Too quantify or compensate the homemaker in terms of money, I think would be like trivialising the great job that he/she does. What lacks in a system currently is the fact that there are no investments made in the joint names of the husband and wife by the husband in the event where the wife is a homemaker. A better dignity can be given to her by involving her in the asset sharing or whatever she acquires post marriage. By doing that she would be recognised with dignity and the acknowledgement for the role that she has played – a silent worker sitting at home doing everything for the husbands to do well. Secondly, regarding ‘streedhan’ – it means all the personal belongings, especially valuables and jewellery which belongs to the women post marriage, according to the law. This is an age-old concept which comes under the Hindu lawand that becomes a sole exclusive property for women. But the possession of merely ‘streedhan’ is not the financial security that the wife can get, andfor the homemakers to obtain it, she has to be made, if not equal, but at least a substantial part of what the assets and the income are, rather than allowing an amount and questioning her about the expenses made of it.
At the outset, women are conditioned from a very young age to servitude – to serve the family, the man. Even our media, the TV serials and all the advertisements continue to condition her to say that they are going to get married and this is how they need to survive. That apart, it’s not merely a section of people, but the other section who are suffering from dowry deaths or domestic violence cases that are filed and for which they aren’t even granted the monthly maintenance amount of Rs.500 the least. So the poor, illiterate, marginalised or the vulnerable sections of our society have been deprived of all their dues for ages now. I am of the opinion that a compensation or honorarium must be paid. There’s no way we can monetise nurturing and care, but for household chores it needs to be looked into how some kind of compensation can be placed to that.
Let’s assume that a law gets enacted in future that says that the husband gives 40% and the state 60% to the homemakers, then will the amount of dowry that they are asking for increase? Gender roles, traditions, customs, rituals, etc. places the burden on the woman, and not on the man or the state. In fact, equal wages can be given to our women by the government before we look at giving any kind of compensation for household chores which is a fantastic idea, but can the women at least receive the minimum and the equal wages together, since the society is pushing women more and more to fend for themselves at all fronts?And the pandemic showed us exactly all of that. We have a huge number of women who are out from work and during the lockdown it was the women who went out looking for alternate jobs because nobody was allowing them to come inside their homes as domestic workers. We have a large number of older children, mostly girls who are now looking after their younger siblings.
“As I hosted a podcast ‘Women In Labour’, one of the things that we discovered is that the participation of Indian women in the workforce is falling drastically, to the point that we have lesser Indian women at work than Saudi Arabia. When we started the podcast we thought there would be multiple reasons like sexual harassment, pay gaps for the women to leave their jobs and we would all learn about more of these issues, but it all boiled down to one fact that men don’t help out inside the homes, which is why many Indian women are forced to drop-out of the workforce. My thinking is if this gets incentivised economically, may be men will then decide to stay back and work a bit at home”, Aditi Mittal, Comedian said.
A study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) across 26 member countries, including India, China, South Africa found that Turkish, Mexican and India women spend up to between 4-5 hours a day more than men doing unpaid work. It also said, “Indian men spend considerably more time sleeping, eating and watching television than Indian women do”.
At the end of the day, we are looking for balance and equality, and in order to get through balance, we also need to begin looking at men who are primary care-givers, either of children or of elderly parents, who are stay at home fathers with a certain amount of respect as well. Unless society respect the men who are care-givers, we cannot give respect for equality on the other side. The more we see homemaking, primary caregiving as a serious hard job with a value attached to it, the more we would start respecting anyone who does that. Men or women or people of any binaries who chooses to do this will be treated with immense respect and love for the work that they are in.