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Wages for Housework

  • IASbaba
  • January 6, 2021
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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SOCIETY/ ECONOMY/ GOVERNANCE

Topic: General Studies 1,2,3:

  • Social Empowerment
  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.

Wages for Housework

Context: In the context of the forthcoming State Assembly election in Tamil Nadu, Political Party led by veteran actor Kamal Haasan, has made an eye-catching election promise  to recognise housework as a salaried profession and assured payment to homemakers for their work.

The promise bears close examination as it flags off an important issue and one that has had an interesting, if chequered significance in the history of women’s movements.

Origin of the demand for Wages for housework

  • A report by International Labour Organization in 2018 shows that, globally, women perform 76.2% of total hours of unpaid care work, more than three times as much as men. In Asia and the Pacific, this figure rises to 80%.
  • The demand for ‘wages for housework’ arose in the context of struggle and consciousness-raising associated with the Second Wave of the women’s movement in North America and Europe (During 1970s)
  • The International Wages for Housework Campaign started in Italy in 1972 under Selma James. It was based on the premise that housework was the basis of industrial work and should be duly paid for. The movement further spread to Britain and America.
  • Alongside other demands for social and political equality, women’s rights campaigners made visible and also politicised women’s everyday experience of housework and child care in the ‘private’ realm of the household. 
  • For leading women’s rights activists of the 1960s and 1970s, it was important to bust the myth that women’s work at home was a personal service with no links to capitalist production. 

What are the in favour of Wages for Housework?

  • More Accurate National Income Accounting: Regardless of the hours of the day women put in to this domestic labour, the work is often dismissed as a set of daily chores (doesn’t generate products and services for the market). As a result, it is not accounted for in either the GDP or the employment metrics. Neglecting to include it would thus mean underestimating GDP of the economy.
  • Makes Woman Autonomous: Housework had come to define the very nature of a woman which disallowed woman from seeing it as ‘real work’ or as a social contract.  For the advocates of ‘wages for housework’, the wage that the state ought to pay women would make them autonomous of the men on whom they were dependent. 
  • Housework has Capitalistic Production Link: The woman working at home produced ‘the living human being — the labourer himself.’ By providing free services in the home, women made possible the survival of working-class households at subsistence-level wages, with obvious benefits for industry and capital
  • Redefines the role of Women: More fundamentally, the very demand for a wage was a repudiation of housework as an expression of women’s nature. It was a revolt against the assigned social role of women. Therein lay the radical nature of the demand for wages, not in the money itself.
  • Welfare of large Segment of Population: According to the Census in 2011, people engaged in household duties have been treated as non-workers, even when 159.9 million women stated that “household work” was their main occupation.
  • Recognition as first step to Equality: Recognition is one of the most central processes in empowerment. It gives them a claim to equality within the patriarchal Indian household that only recognises the work done by men.
  • It moves us towards a more holistic understanding of labour: Labour isn’t purely tied to the exchange value of a service on the market, and recognises an extremely intimate form of labour that has proved essential to keeping the unit of the family intact and functional
  • Gender Justice: Once recognised as work, this arena of unpaid domestic labour that is dominated almost entirely by women can become one where women can demand some degree of parity in terms of the time and energy expended on it.
  • Helps Control Domestic Violence: In 2014, Giulia Bongiorno, an Italian lawyer and ex-parliamentarian, proposed that homemakers should be paid a salary as a way of addressing the debate on domestic violence. She argued that most women continue in an abusive relationship because they don’t have a way out, as they are financially dependent on their partner.

Challenges

  • Ghettoise Women: It is argued by some that wages for housework would only imprison women further within the household, increase their social isolation and dissuade men from sharing housework.
  • Misled Goal of Feminist Movement: Others argue that the goal of the women’s movement must be, to not ask for wages, but to free women from the daily drudgery of routine domestic chores and enable them to participate fully in all spheres of social life, including paid employment outside the household.
  • Puts additional stress on the economy: There is still debates on who would pay for the housework done by women, if it is to be done by State then this will put additional fiscal burden on government finances.

Conclusion

Needless to say, women constitute almost half the population and their needs and issues have to be addressed. A homemaker doesn’t need any favours. She is already contributing to the economy. A salary for her work at home would be a tool towards her empowerment, give her a life of dignity.

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