From cleaning bathrooms to cooking and washing clothes, women do all kinds of household work which are unfathomable. And as of now, no one has proposed a proper wage system for these tasks. Every Indian family has at least one woman who has been doing these uncountable, invisible and often labour and time intensive activities every day. Yet, employment and social security policies disregard women’s labour at home.
Now, for the first time in the judicial history of independent India, the Madras High Court has recognised, estimated and calculated the would be income of a housewife to be ₹3000 per month.
On June 28 a division bench of Justice K. K. Sasidharan and Justice M. Muraleedharan recognised the unnoticed work that women do every day in their homes. In a society where a homemaker’s work is never considered as ‘work’, this ruling gives an ameliorative approach towards domestic work. In a case, the Puducherry Electricity Board appealed to the Madras High Court, about the compensation of ₹4 lakh they have to pay to the husband of a homemaker named Malathi who died in 2009 from electrocution. The electricity board said that since she was a homemaker without any income, the compensation money was very high.
Calling the homemaker a ‘finance minister’ of the family, the high court stated that she was a dutiful wife and an affectionate mother. According to the court, she was not only the ‘chartered accountant’, maintaining the income and expenses, but also the ‘chef’ of the family. The court, by evaluating the monthly income has levelled the unrecognised, unpaid work of a homemaker with that of payable and acknowledged labour. This is a significant step by the court, the judges and the lawyer who represented Malathi’s case.
Whether a woman has a paid job or not, she does all the yearly, monthly, weekly, daily household chores. These are traditionally considered as the unspoken ‘duty’ of a woman without expecting any pay. This is also one of the primary reasons for the underpayment of the domestic workers.
Different sectors like manufacturing and transport are added to the total labour of the country. The Ministry of Labour and Employment even includes the unorganised sector jobs which are done by domestic and daily wage workers but it does not take into account the work housewives do in their homes day and night.
”Unpaid work at household level including care giving remains invisible and unmeasured,” says the eighth Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon. Homemakers do not have regular time-off and are a majorly vacation-less class. They do not have a fixed income source, any maturity or accidental costs, pension or any other benefits typically found in formal settings.
The situation of the Dalit and Adivasi women is much worse. They not only do the household chores like cooking, cleaning, caring but also the outdoor tasks in harsher conditions like farming, travelling long distances to get vegetables or even to fetch water in buckets from wells afar, animal caring, collecting fire woods, etc.
Household work also leaves some traces of ‘invisibility’ as woman do not get due recognition for their tasks. The imbalance in the division of labour and contribution to the economic development often fuels stereotypes, gender inequality and discrimination. Furthermore, there is no value for reproduction despite it being essential.
UN Research Institute for Social Development in a 2008 project covering India and other countries found that the mean time spent by women in unpaid care is more than twice the time spent by men.
On June 16 2011, International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted a convention concerning decent work for domestic workers. It offers specific protection to domestic workers and measures their rights, principles and requirements.
Now the time has come when we must develop measures to eliminate gender stereotypes, increase flexibility in working environment and arrangement, equate roles and responsibilities of men and women and include household work while calculating the GDP.