On 21st Jan. Mr. Faizan Mustafa wrote an editorial for The Hindu. He very eloquently, as he always does, pointed out the discrepancies in household work done by men and women. Among other things that he pointed out one was relating to the announcement made by Mr. Kamal Hasaan’s party. Mr. Hasaan promises in his manifesto that if his party is given success in the polls then women will be given a salary for their gratuitous work.
Kamal Haasan’s MNM promised salaries for women who do housework in their manifesto.
Towards the end of the article, Mr. Mustafa seems somewhat disconcerted because of the said scheme. I too think that what Mr. Haasan has proposed is problematic. One reason given by Mr. Mustafa is that “it indicates an employer-employee relationship, i.e., a relationship of subordination with the employer having a disciplinary control over the employee. The wife does not deserve a master-servant relationship.”
The reason given by Mr. Mustafa is very important keeping in view the relationship that develops when two persons enter into this sacramental, sacrosanct and contractual relationship. In my view, there are other reasons too to criticize the proposal. Prima facie the proposal is populist in nature. Through his scheme, he tries to find a short-term solution to a problem that is very deep-seated and intricate in nature not only in Indian society but all over the world.
No matter how good the intentions behind a populist scheme it always has the tendency of producing authoritarian leaders. These leaders tend to be potentially corrupt and after they gain power, they try to perpetuate their power by delegitimizing oppositions and damage the democratic institutions of the country.
As I have already said that the promise of Mr. Hasaan only gives short-term succor to the toiling housewives. The paying of salary is just the recognition of their plight. According to the 2011 Census, 159.85 million women have stated household as their main occupation. And if we take the case of Tamil Nadu alone then according to the all-India Time Use Survey (2019), 82% of females (six years and above) as against 24% of males from Tamil Nadu participate in unpaid domestic work.
This gap is even more evident when we look at the age group of 15-59 years. In this group, 90% of females and 24% of males participate in domestic work. By paying those 80% to 90% of the population one is only recognizing their plight. Apart from recognition effective steps are needed to narrow this huge hiatus. We can’t expect a country to grow when more than half of its population is locked inside the house.
There are some steps that could prove to be vital in narrowing down this disparity and bringing more women into the main workforce.
One of the most important steps that policymakers need to take is in the field of education. Women should be treated unequally when it comes to education. When I say unequally, what I mean is that they should be given more opportunities. They should be showered with more incentives in the form of scholarships. Special committees should be formed to study the reasons that lead to their drop out from educational institutions and they should be tasked with finding effective solutions for the same.
More efforts should be put in to create an environment so captivating so that women can study more easily and acquire educational and technical superiority over their male counterparts. When women are made educationally and technically richer it will certainly pave the way for their better participation in economic activities. This will ultimately change the status quo and narrow the gap between men and women.
Another step that policymakers can take is by opening government-aided community kitchens, public dining rooms, laundries, repair shops, crèches, and kindergartens for women only. This will make them more independent and freer. In this case lack of educational and professional qualifications will not be a barrier in their pursuit of doing economic activities.
Moreover, instead of luring the women with a salary for doing household chores, the offer should be general. Maybe that way men will show more interest in doing some gratuitous activities.
It can, therefore, be concluded that the idea of paying women for doing household activities is short-sighted. It has the potential of aggravating the gap between men and women when it comes to doing economic activities. Moreover, it can also be used by conservative families as a tool to keep their daughters at home and keep them away from higher studies now since they will be paid for doing household works.