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A Qualitative Analysis Reveals A Solution To Measure And Address Unpaid Housework

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This article is in response to the Indian Express story titled Explained: How to measure unpaid care work and address its inequalities by Arundhati Chakravarty, dated 2 May, 2021.

The article recognises unpaid housework as the “hidden engine that keeps economies, businesses and societies running and (that which) contributes significantly to individual well-being. While this work is foundational for societies, it is mostly invisible, undervalued and unaccounted worldwide. The ILO estimates that if such services were to be valued on the basis of an hourly minimum wage, they would amount to 9% of global GDP (US$11 trillion)”.

The Great Indian Kitchen
Representative Image.

The article ends open-endedly, calling for more research and analysis for policy evaluation in order to move a step further towards a more equitable society. Surely, housework is difficult to measure because there is no quantifiable yardstick to know how much of the work is purely dedicated to care and how much of it contributes to a profitable goal.

But I believe a qualitative analysis may have an answer hidden in them. I propose that all legal cohabitation, either through marriage or a live-in relationship, be treated as a single entity and all the family’s earnings be brought at par with each other.

For instance, if a husband’s in-hand salary is ₹20 and his wife earns ₹10, the husband’s employer is liable to pay ₹5 to the wife’s account to compensate for the additional housework and other intangible services like moral support and encouragement.

Here is a list of personal anecdotes from my peers and family members, which brings us to this single solution:

  • Disrespect for merit: 

My cousin and one of her male colleagues were considered for a promotion. The colleague finally made it to the new title. She sensed injustice and brought up her concerns to her manager.

The manager sat her down and asked her, “Are you married?” She said, “Yes, I am.” The manager retorted, “What does your husband do?” She said, “He is an Assistant Manager at XYZ company.” The manager sighed and said, “You see, here lies the problem. You can comfortably live off your husband’s pay and prestige. That poor colleague has to climb up the ladder to fend for his family.”

She was dumbstruck and submitted her resignation papers in the following week itself.

  • Feminising housework: 
Woman working on laptop in her office
Representative Image.

Owing to her recent marriage and the mounting burden of housework, a friend had joined a new start-up which allowed her to work from home for 3 days a week. She was comfortably managing her home and work.

One day due to an unprecedented event at the office, she worked late and could not prepare dinner before her husband got back from the office. Upon returning from office, he enquired and felt the delay to be reasonable. But he simply walked into the bedroom and put his head down on the pillow.

She asked several times if something was troubling him, but he didn’t say anything explicitly. After managing to prepare and serve him food quickly, it dawned on her how he was discreetly putting the onus of the household chores on her — just because she works from home and is paid less. This, somewhere, demeaned her economic contribution to the family.

  • Uncertainty: 

My grandfather has made a fortune for himself. And my grandmother had left her job in due course. She had no paying capacity as she was officially unemployed and had to ask her husband to run the expenses of the house.

On the day that my grandfather had a sudden heart attack, the uncertainty stirred my grandmother. She had no idea where to fend for the exorbitant hospital bills. She was lucky to have some common friends at her beck and call. And thankfully, my grandfather too came back fit and fine but still does not choose to reveal any information about their belongings.

  • Managing expectations: 

I chanced upon an artist’s account of how she was offered a brilliant role in a play. She subconsciously knew that her husband would be extremely disappointed by this offer. They were jointly running a small production house and didn’t think of his wife as either capable or interested in pursuing something independently. So, she was secretly rehearsing for the audition, day-after-day.

She thought to herself that she would communicate only if she makes it to the role. On the day of the audition, she forgot the scheduled time and reached the venue an hour late. The psychotherapist author’s analysis suggests that she conveniently forgot the scheduled time since she subconsciously feared jeopardising her family life.

  • Role-reversals: 
Representative Image.

In a family where the wife earns substantially more than the husband, the onus of housework clearly steers away from her too. It works both ways. I had friends whose fathers would happily take responsibility for the household chores and would be the sole chefs of their tiffins. And the woman automatically has a lot more say in the monetary decisions of the house.

  • Sense of partnership: 

My parents jointly run a legal firm. There used to be a time when my father would manage all the finances solely and would keep some money for use by the rest of the house. And if my mother were to use any money, she would immediately feel accountable to give my father an explanation and the details of the expenses.

I think it was when my siblings and I were in college and my mother began travelling more often that they held a joint account together. Since then, my mother always feels a sense of ownership over her money. She has more paying capacity than ever and uses it at her own discretion.

  • Back-up:

It was when my uncle’s business collapsed that my aunt’s considerably low paying job rose to great importance. My uncle would willingly take on responsibility at home so that she could comfortably continue to work. It was her job and the “meagre earnings” that kept them and their household afloat in a time of great crisis.

Now I would like you to think about these stories in a different light. How do you think the stories would have differed if there were an equitable distribution of wealth in the first place? Would ambitious wives and home-loving husbands have more leeway to exercise free will? Will there be a respectful attitude towards all kinds of work? Will it reinforce the perception of combined effort in raising a family?

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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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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