It’s Time To Talk About Paying Women For Housework?

Women as unpaid labourers, Good Wife
The Paid Housework Question : Almost everywhere in the world, the burden of housework falls disproportionately and rather involuntarily on women. In many situations, the gigantic pressure and weight of interminable and repetitive housework compel women to either quit their paid jobs altogether or in a few rare cases, seek part-time work.

A few women may manage to break the deep-rooted conservative gender expectations to restart their careers after a childcare break, but have to struggle with starting all over again in junior positions and earning less than men that are comparable to, or even less than them in terms of age, experience, and education.

Let’s talk numbers

Before jumping to the intricacies of right and wrong, let’s get a good look at numbers. According to an analysis by Oxfam, women’s unpaid labour is worth $10.9 trillion – more than the combined revenue of the 50 largest companies in the world, including Apple, Amazon and Google. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, an average woman spends 351.9 minutes, which is almost 6 hours on unpaid labour per day, while a man spends only 52 minutes.  In many cases, the time women spend per day on housework may even exceed what is legally allowed for the recognized workforce in India.

In a nutshell, society collectively has emphasised the insurmountable task of childcare, household chores, cooking, and cleaning for a healthy and happy life – for which only women pay the price, but not men.

The idea of the ‘sole male breadwinner’

This highly conservative and bigoted system of sexual division is labelled as “reproductive labour”, where women are compelled to bear the undervalued, invisible and taken for the granted weight of childcare, nurturing, and domestic chores, thereby easing men to devote themselves to “productive labour”, a type of work that is recognised, dignified, paid and appreciated way more.

To understand the skewness of this system, imagine an arrangement in which the waiter in a restaurant takes credit for the food the chef made just because the waiter is allowed to go out and offer the food while the chef has to remain inside the kitchen.

Why should a woman be forced to stand behind and clean up the mess made by a man that is free to fulfil his dreams? Why are a woman’s efforts made to take a backseat in the name of empty traditional family values? Why can’t a homemaker stand right next to her corporate-driven husband when she works as much or even more so than him?

The collective oblivion and disregard shown by the government, society and patriarchy towards indispensable housework done by women can be countered only through struggles for recognition, pay and dignity. The rusted pillar of the “sole male breadwinner” must be demolished by encouraging women to become financially secure and independent.

Monetising housework: more than just getting monthly salaries?

Offering Wages for housework has many more implications than simply getting salaries. It is about recognition, about independence, and provided that we live in one of the most unsafe countries for women, it is about safety and security. Even basic compensation will uplift and empower women. It will allow them to set effective boundaries, resist domestic violence, learn another skill, and give them the necessary power to exit a marriage if the need arises. Many Indian wives continue to tolerate extremely toxic treatment at home at the expense of their mental and physical health because of a lack of financial authority, which exists even when they contribute hours of productive effort in the form of housework.

The complicated system of gender disparity in India reinforces that we have a long way to go when it comes to discarding patriarchal models that embed ‘love’ and ‘duty’ deep in family values. Domestic work must be treated as a paid profession, and consequently, should be a voluntary choice.

In an ideal world, the change should be reflected in the mentality of the people – and our final destination must definitely be to enable every person, whether man or woman, to possess the freedom to choose their own regulated occupation. But in our aspirations for the ideal, we cannot forget the reality of the women in rural and conservative households. In that sense, payment for household chores is not the final solution, but rather an effective means to reach it.  In the journey of establishing equality, we must first uplift women that are stuck in the low levels of patriarchy.

The views expressed are the author’s own.