As the Supreme Court recently said, unpaid domestic work by women needs better recognition from society
A recent order of the Supreme Court recognises the unpaid work done by women at home in its entirety. Hearing a dispute over insurance amount due to the survivors of a deceased couple—the man was a professional and the woman, a homemaker—the court observed that the notional income from unpaid housework by women should factor in their labour as well as their “sacrifices”; the apex court revised the insurance amount upwards. The seven-point manifesto brought out by Kamal Haasan’s Makkal Needhi Maiam party in the run-up to Assembly elections in Tamil Nadu also talks about “due recognition” of women’s unpaid housework. Fixing a notional income—when paying women for housework, within the dominant social paradigm seems a near impossibility—establishes recognition of housework as labour, nudging society to acknowledge its value within the economy.
As per NSSO’s Time Use Survey 2019, 92% of the women in the 15-59 age group reported doing unpaid daily housework vis-a-vis 29% of men, and women spend a lot more time on domestic work, too, (299 minutes versus 97 minutes for men). This has surely come down from the days when the corresponding figures were 352 minutes versus 57 minutes—then the widest such gap in the world. But, the fact is that the participation of women in paid labour has been declining, which means a lot of women could likely be doing unpaid labour at home. Juxtapose this against the fact that only 38% of women in the country own any land or a house. Thus, there is a need to recognise unpaid domestic work by women to attempt to compensate them. What has been a double whammy for many women is that they have to share the bulk of unpaid domestic work even when they are employed—a significant number report productivity erosion in the professional sphere because of domestic work. ILO estimates the unpaid care work economy to be around 9% of the global economy—monetising this for women will need careful policy choices.