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Recognising the Value of Housework

  • IASbaba
  • January 5, 2022
  • 0
UPSC Articles
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SOCIETY/ ECONOMY/ GOVERNANCE

  • GS-1: Social Empowerment
  • GS-3: Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources, growth, development and employment.

Recognising the Value of Housework

Context: With elections set to be held in Punjab, both the AAP and the Punjab Congress have promised various sums of money to homemakers if they are elected to power. 

  • Political parties are promising to recognise housework as a salaried profession by paying homemakers ‘hitherto unrecognized and unmonetized’ for their work at home.

What is the origin of the demand?

  • 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. 
  • Alongside other demands for social and political equality, women’s rights campaigners politicised women’s everyday experience of housework and child care in the ‘private’ realm of the household. 
  • In doing this, they challenged the assumption that a ‘natural’ affinity for housework was rooted in the essential nature of women who were performing a ‘labour of love’. 
  • 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. 
  • In a concrete sense, this meant linking the exploitation of the worker in the factory to women’s work at home.
  • As Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James wrote in their seminal piece in 1972 , 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.
  • Housework had come to define the very nature of a woman that disallowed women from seeing it as ‘real work’ or as a social contract.
  • 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.
  • 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. 

What are some of the challenges in implementing the proposal? 

  • There was disagreement among the women ideologues of the Second Wave on what payment of a wage would actually mean for women. 
  • The sociologist, Ann Oakley, believed that ‘wages for housework’ would only imprison women further within the household, increase their social isolation and dissuade men from sharing housework. 
  • Others too argued that the goal of the women’s movement must be, to not ask for wages, but to free women from the daily routine domestic chores and enable them to participate fully in all spheres of social life, including paid employment outside the household. 
  • The debate around monetary remuneration for housework remained unresolved within the women’s movement, even as the tools to measure the value that women’s unpaid work adds to national economies have grown more sophisticated.
  • There are also inclusion & exclusion issues (full time homemaker & working woman who also handles household work) that cannot be easily resolved. It would be better to strengthen the demand for a universal basic income for income-poor households and make sure that the cash transfer to the family reaches women directly, whether or not they combine household work with paid work.

Struggle for legislation

  • However, the demand that the state recognise housework is significant and its radical core must not be missed, as the historical experience of the women’s movement shows us. 
  • In this context, it is worth mentioning that an important campaign on the question of household labour has been taking place in India. This is the ongoing struggle for national legislation for domestic workers. 
  • These are predominantly women who perform ‘women’s work’ but in other people’s homes. They are, therefore, uniquely positioned to make this work visible and demand that its conditions be regulated, minimum wages guaranteed, and the workers’ status and rights protected. 

Conclusion

If domestic workers emerge as a strong force that succeeds in asserting the dignity of housework and making it a visible and valued form of labour, this can only be a good thing for all women performing housework in the long run.

Connecting the dots:

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