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Will Salaried Housework And Caregiving End The Plight Of Women At Home?

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Earlier this year, politician Kamal Hassan announced that his party, if it comes to power, will acknowledge housework as a salaried profession to empower women and put them in equal footing as their office-going husbands. Note. To empower women. Clearly, it is not a gender neutral plan and also excludes working women.

Some have applauded this announcement, while others said that housework cannot be valued with money and is against the dignity of caregivers. But the issue is much, much bigger than this. Let us look into some statistics first. The  Census Report of 2011 says that there are 159.85 million women in housework as opposed to 5.79 million men. The Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation says that the time spent on housework by women is 299 minutes a day versus 97 minutes a day by men.

Representational image

And now, this huge chunk of unpaid work done by women will be treated as a job. In a world where it is a challenge for women to step out of the house, you further try to put them behind the four falls, forcing them into stereotypical gender roles and reasserting how housework is a woman’s job.

Yes, there is a need to recognise that domestic work has some value, but this cannot be justified in the cult of femininity. The essentialism of woman as a wife and mother is the root cause of the problem. Why cannot men and women come together, bring up a family and get rid of romanticised inequality? ‘Division of labour at home’ surely sounds too utopian for all the women reading this article. But paying homemakers will not remove the embedded hierarchy in the house. It will only work as an excuse to stop women to have ambitions.

Housework Is A ‘Choice’ For Many, But Is It A Free Choice?

Simon De Beauvoir famously said in 1949,

‘Humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself, but as relative to him. He is the absolute, she is the other.’

The system of the world is such that it is created by men, keeping a man in mind, leaving hardly any space for a woman. She was simply not kept in mind. A report by the UN says that one out of three women lack access to safe toilets. A Water Aid Report says that women all over the world spend 97 billion hours/week finding a safe toilet. Over 60% of Indians do not have toilets. And the problem is more acute for women as the attitude of ‘men can go anywhere’ is not an option for women.

There is a lack of women-only washrooms in courts and police stations. I personally know female police officers who go to the washroom only with another woman for fear of safety, holes in the doors or missing locks. This leads to a decrease in women who sustain in their profession for long.

Further, let’s talk about transport. Crime surveys and empirical surveys from different parts of the world show that a majority of women are fearful of the potential violence against them in public places, particularly in low-income groups, in which women work odd hours. This leads them to change their travel patterns, strategically taking a longer route or travelling only with someone. This is a big reason for them to quit jobs.

A number of studies say that women are three times more likely to be a victim of a crime on a bus stop than in a vehicle. After 2014, Delhi ranked fourth in the ‘most dangerous public transport system for women’. So, next time a woman says that she chooses to stay at home, it needs to be seen how much of it is a really a free choice and how much a compulsion. The Guardian in 2016 rightfully asked in an article, ‘Why aren’t cities being designed for women but just for men?’

The Plight Of The Working Woman

Note that 66% of women’s worktime in India gets spent on unpaid labour, while it is only 12% for men. The number of hours spent is six hours vs 13 minutes for men. In fact, men spend their leisure time watching TV and sleeping, even as women continue to work. All this extra labour is affecting women’s health immensely. A 2016 Canadian study shows this. The International Labour Organisation has said it is dangerous to work more than 48 hours a week. But do women have an option? The study also shows how women are more stressed than men due to overburdened responsibilities, which are perpetual and endless.

Workplaces function in ways that suit only men. They have timings and locations totally unrelated to the opening and closing of children’s school, childcare centres, doctors, groceries, etc. It is simply not designed for women. In the legal profession, women are paid less, with the notion that they will not be here for long so why invest in them. And yes, women do largely leave once they are married or become mothers. But who is accountable for that?

With our patriarchal, conservative society and no support for women by the system yet no dearth of impractical expectations, it is hard. We all know so many women who have taken a sabbatical from work till the “child grows up”’ or leave because of their husband’s transfer. The best response to this is in an article in the Guardian where the boss says, “I have children yet I work full time,” and the listener responds, “Yes, because your wife stays back home to take care of them.” Relatable?

And for those women who do sustain their jobs? I remember visiting a senior’s house. I waited as he returned from court with his wife (also a lawyer) after a tiring day at work. The moment they entered, he jumped on the couch, stretching himself, while she kept her bag in place and rushed to pick up the toys from the floor, attending their angry young daughter, fixing dinner with the maid and simultaneously taking a client’s calls.

The point is, somehow or the other, society pushes women back to home. It romanticises housework and says that women are just good at it, while men are just incompetent. No, women are not good at it by birth, it’s just that men have never cooperated. Giving salaries to homemakers to ‘empower’ them is just a gimmick to avoid deeper questions. It does nothing to include women in the system. It is when more women come out and become a part of decision-making that the system will become universal.

Break Gender Roles And Welcome Cooperation

Rabindranath Tagore in his essay Nationalism in India says that while talking about nation and man-woman relationship,

‘because man is driven to professionalism, producing wealth and turning the wheel of power for his own sake or the sake of universal officialdom, he leaves the woman alone to wither and die or fight her own battles unaided, eliminating cooperation and humanity.’

Talking of cooperation, Camp Bell Soup offers on-site after-school classes and summer programmes for employees’ children. Google has subsidised childcare, including conveniences such as dry cleaning for employees. Sony Ericson pays their employees to get their house cleaned. Sweden has reserved three months of parental leave exclusively for fathers. These months cannot be transferred to the mother: the father has to use it, otherwise the couple lose it from their overall leave allowance.

Paternity leaves are also present in Iceland and South Korea. Men who take leave tend to be more involved in childcare in future and not have the entire responsibility on the mother. A Swedish study found that mothers’ future earnings increased by 7% of every month of leave taken by fathers.

The culture of paid work needs a radical reform. It is a fact that none of us could do without the invisible, unpaid work carers. It is time this unpaid works stops burdening the women. Design the paid workplace to account for it. By accounting for women’s care-responsibilities in urban planning, we make it easier for women to fully engage in the paid workforce. By accounting for the sexual violence women face and introducing preventive measures, we release them from fear. No, it is not a matter of resources, but priority. Women are almost 50% of the population, but simply never prioritised.

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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