TN parties promising to pay women for unpaid domestic work is welcome, but there are many challenges to consider, too
The NSSO’s Time Use Survey 2019 shows that 92% of women aged 15-59 years do unpaid housework daily compared to just 29% of men
Recognising unpaid domestic-work’s economic value is a must, but the way political parties in Tamil Nadu are going about it in the run-up to polls in the state will likely muddle matters. After Kamal Haasan’s MNM first promised an undefined payment to housewives in its manifesto, DMK committed Rs 1,000 a month; this was topped by AIADMK’s announcement of Rs 1,500. These announcements must be seen for the good they deliver in nudging society towards acknowledging housework’s economic value, but they also need to be examined for whether they actually serve gender justice and the challenges thrown up by the role of government these envisage.
The NSSO’s Time Use Survey 2019 shows that 92% of women aged 15-59 years do unpaid housework daily compared to just 29% of men. Women have to dedicate a lot more time, too—299 minutes versus 99 minutes for men. This is an improvement from 352 minutes versus 57 minutes for men recorded earlier, but India’s declining female labour force participation rate signals a lot of its women could be doing unpaid work at home. This would make a compelling case for paying women for domestic work. But, the Tamil Nadu announcements could not only reinforce the notion that care-/domestic-work is meant to be executed by women but also undermine gender justice through inclusion and exclusion errors. Paying housewives only would exclude women undertaking salaried/wage work along with unpaid domestic work, especially in the lower economic strata. And, if the government is to pay all women, employed or housewives, the burden on its finances isn’t hard to imagine. Setting a household income cap wouldn’t help, as it would effectively undermine the unpaid work done by women in households where the income is above this cap. While the government arguably can fund such a programme by cutting back on existing social sector expenditure, this would essentially be a direct transfer of benefits for the schemes wound up rather than any payment recognising housework. The challenges of quantifying the economic value of domestic work and standardising it across households aside, the government would also have to ensure the remuneration doesn’t violate its own wage standards. The government must also ensure that the payment doesn’t merely make the woman a conduit for greater spending by the menfolk in some households. Monetising unpaid housework, therefore, needs careful consideration.