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Gender Norms Have Dictated That Homemakers Do Unpaid Work

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Certain behaviours are imbibed in humans since inception. They are so deeply rooted that soon they might be a part of our DNAs. For instance, cooking with fire, keeping their groins covered, barter system, etc. I’d like to emphasise on the straightforward concept of barter: to gain anything, you have to give up something — from pulses, buck flesh and money. It’s applicable in every sector of our societies except in the case of housewives/house makers.

Research suggests that the amount of work done by a housewife covers 6 hours of a day whereas “the man” (referring to the primary wage earner of the house and not the gender) of the house covers only 0.84 hours. Economists have also suggested that if domestic workers had been paid, these women would be earning 90 lakh crore rupees per year. Who would be the “the man” of the house then? And that brings us back to a realistic yet intriguing question that we all must ask. If domestic work is a work, then why is it unpaid for?

According to the media that has been in interaction with us from centuries, we have been gradually enunciated that it’s the essence of womanhood, let alone considering it a gender-neutral job. It’s been portrayed as a duty and not as a task that some women might not enjoy. It’s a duty that is selfless and unfortunately, glued to one gender.

We have seen instances in advertisements precisely like that of pressure cookers, washing powders, food products where women are happily performing such chores which are further leading to the success of their children or their husbands at their respective performances. In my opinion, if I were to believe in this norm, I would say that those 6 hours are making a lot of difference in the lives of their families. Why? Because it’s unpaid and might I add, taken for granted and disrespected to a large extent.

I have always questioned my mother as to why all women don’t address their husbands by their names and instead used terms/phrases like “Aap“, “Bittu Ke Papa“, “Bittu Ke Dada” and whatnot, irrespective of their employment status. She said that it is a way of paying respect to the man who runs her family. But who decided that the work of a housewife was any less than that of what a man does outside the four walls. Is it because they are unpaid, if not, then why aren’t they?

I often make scenarios in my head of a man who’s a success in every aspect of his life, from financial to family, but is that achievable without a woman who diligently makes sure that the kids don’t reek at the moral values or get into a hormonal accident at the peak of puberty or the maids don’t spit in the food? Is it possible without a woman abiding by her neglected duty of transforming a house into a home?

Then why aren’t they credited enough for their selfless job that has been forcefully adhered to the virtue of their vaginas? I’ll tell you why, because the work is unpaid in society. It’s free of cost but not free of labour. It’s beyond any job that women do outside their household, but it’s unknown for its unpaid nature.

“In Sweden, which ranks first in the EU’s gender equality index thanks to factors like generous parental leave, subsidised daycare and flexible working arrangements, economists recently studied how promotions to top jobs affected the probability of divorce for each gender. The result: women were much more likely to pay a higher personal price for their career success — promotion to a top job in politics increases the divorce rate of women, but not for men, and women who become CEOs divorce faster than men who become CEOs, summarises Johanna Rickne, a professor at Stockholm University”. I wonder what the percentage would turn out if the wives were paid for their default chores.

Jal Sahelis
Since its inception in 2011, Jal Sahelis have played a pivotal role in ensuring water availability in over 100 villages through small acts of repairing hand pumps, fixing wells and creating work plans for safeguarding water resources.

A group of housewives from a village in MP, namely Bundelkhand, like thousands of women across the country, had to cross challenging terrains every day to store around a few ounces of water. Due to the weather crisis that has been engulfing us, the wells began to dry up as there was no rain.

Any help from the concerned authorities began to look bleak. That’s when these women, now known as Jal Sahelis (friends of water) began digging a tunnel so the nearby waterbody could change its stream and benefit the deprived villagers. It took them 18 months to do so in addition to their household work. These women inspired more than 700 Jal Sahelis to spread water awareness and adopt the idea of water harvesting in areas where the villagers anticipate or are going through such hardships.

But this is the information that we get through media. What we are not told is the add-on work they indulge in which is considered more of duty — a student must study, a homemaker must wash clothes and utensils, cook food for the family, pray on their behalf, take care of the kids; it’s their assigned jobs. We fail to see the difference because the job is done for the benefit of the rest of the family and not for themselves.

There are numerous journals written on injustice against our gender, but these are a few specific traditions that have failed to be acknowledged. There have been no questions, let alone solutions. We have been unable to comprehend the exhaustion faced by women in the name of zimedaaris and parampara. We are striving to be practical in these modern times but yet drowning the norm in the well of traditions. I repeat it’s simple; we work, we earn. I ask, where’s our share?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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