Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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GDP Can Grow Substantially if Domestic Work by Housewives is Accounted for as Vital Contribution to the Economy and Incentivised with Monetary Compensations

Women of course serve their husbands and children out of love and duty in the household. It is something ingrained in them ever since their formative younger years. In real terms the emotional content of care given to the members of the family, including elderly or infirm parents, cannot be equated materially if one were to try and do so. But on the other hand we have now an economic juggernaut rolling in India and division of labour surpasses gender notions. Also to keep the economy on track with the latest developments the seminal contribution of women in industry and as homemakers inevitably demands due recognition. Even by most common logic women represent half the population of the state in Manipur, or anywhere else also in the country. And recognising this unacknowledged half of the population would only enhance the productive force of the state. Let’s localise the discussion to make it easier to comprehend. Also what’s the legal provision till now in terms of quantifying women’s labour, and we may also ask why women’s labour is not monetized although the GDP would only become healthier and realistic if we do so.

Women vendors at Imphal Hills Tribal Mart

A few notable Supreme Court judgments have come in the recent times regarding compensation for women homemakers. The Supreme Court on January 5 this year has said that the value of a woman’s work at home was no less than that of her office going husband. In a landmark pointer to laws which are expected to come in future the Supreme Court has said that the conception that housewives do no work or do not add economic value to the household is “problematic” and needs to be overcome. The judgment in spotlight was one dealing with a Motor Accident Claims Tribunal case in which the Supreme Court enhanced the compensation awarded to a couple who were motor accident victims to Rs. 33.2 lakh, instead of Rs. 22 lakh awarded by the High Court which had said that the compensation for the deceased wife should be reduced as she was only a homemaker. The Supreme Court upturned the decision and awarded a higher compensation to the daughters of the deceased couple in view of the value of labour, service and sacrifices of the woman housewife.

The Supreme Court judgment was well timed and comes at a time when other developments too are taking place in this area. A Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation report shows that women on an average spend 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members in comparison to 97 minutes spent by men on an average. Specifically women prepare food, manage procurement of groceries and shopping, clean and manage the house and surroundings, make decorations, carry out repair and maintenance work and tend to children and aged members of the household. The Court also said that a notional income must be determined as women engaged in these activities, the value of their labour, service and sacrifices contribute in a quantifiable way to the economic condition of the family and the economy of the nation, and conform to the vision of social equality and dignity of all individuals.

A women vendor minding her wares of second hand clothes

The 2011 Census found nearly 159.85 million women in India engaged in household work as compared to 5.79 million men. What work these women do is a component of the economy and apart from empowering the women, the economy of the country would also benefit if domestic work by women is monetized. Also, on an average women spend 16.9% of a day on unpaid domestic work and 2.6% on unpaid caregiving services for household members, while men spend 1.7% and 0.8% respectively. The average time spent on unpaid caregiving services by women is 134 minutes compared to 76 by men. According to the International Labour Organisation 76.2% of the world’s unpaid household work, or 3/4ths volume, which is 3.2 times more than what men do, is done by women. Also according to the same statistics women do 90.5% unpaid care work while men do 9.5% in India, whereas in a more gender equal country like Sweden, for instance, women do 55.3% unpaid care work in comparison to the men there who do 40.7%. If India was to give women a salary for household work in their own homes and hence raise the level of women’s participation in the labour force to that of men, India’s Gross Domestic Product would rise by 27%. So why aren’t we doing this? Rural women too, who take part in sowing, harvesting, transplanting, and tending cattle should also benefit whenever and wherever they make a contribution. Its constitutional and these social obligations need to be addressed fairly.

Thankless unpaid labour akin to slavery

Though India ranks 7th in the number of women innovators in the world the larger understanding, acknowledgment and pride has not been accorded to the women for excellence in their professions. Women’s work is still not visible in the GDP and is not accounted in any economic calculation. While GDP and employment are taken as the true reflection of the country or state’s economy, since work done at home do not necessarily generate products or services, it is ignored by economists who treat it as duty and not labour, thus undermining its potential in boosting the economy. A pertinent question remains that when a woman steps out of home to do a job, who will be doing the household chores. This unsolved dilemma makes it all the more pertinent that unpaid women’s work should be accounted for in the economic calculations.

Laws and accompanying facilities need discussions too in cases where the productivity of women goes down when they have to give care to children. If child care centres are provided for young mothers this in itself could also be a way of quantifying and monetizing women related services. Laws against sexual harassment, especially in work place, are not to remain on paper but taken up in ground conditions. If the land is safe women who excel could work late hours and they can also be paid more when they produce more goods or services. But in all this women can’t be coerced. The choice has to be theirs. Equal property rights, agency in the form of equal opportunities and social security for years of aging will cause recognition of women’s rights and lead to their further empowerment. In a patriarchy driven system we can have the change come only from ourselves, before it reflects in the society, which includes the judiciary also. As of now women in this system cannot grow to 100% potential due to patriarchy. Educated youths with liberal views in household work can bring about a sea change. It is surely not a man versus women debate, but only means how they can contribute and live equally. And for that it should be okay for women not to conform to societal norms in their own ways.

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