Why homemakers should be eligible for monthly wages

2nd May 2016
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The International Labour Day having just passed on 1 May, it’s to be seen as to when a homemaker’s job will be viewed as industrial work which needs remuneration. Homemakers are still taken for granted and their work is not seen as ‘productive’. As a result, homemakers, to date, are not entitled to draw a salary.

Image: Play Buzz
Image: Play Buzz

In a report by The Wire, while it is a fact that the wife is meant to be an equal partner in a marriage, it is often observed that she has no say in the decision making of the household if she is not an earning member. The social structure in a country like India gives her little space to do her own thing, take up a new vocation, help a needy relative, or make any purchase without being questioned. Though the work she does is real, in terms of efforts and its visible output, it is not monetised. It is labour, but not recognised to be so because it’s unpaid.

A study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in its 26 member countries and three emerging economies of India, China and South Africa, said that household production constitutes an important part of economic activity. Since this unpaid work is mostly done by women, neglecting to include it would mean underestimating women’s contribution to the economy. The study found that Turkish, Mexican and Indian women spend 4.3 to 5 hours more on unpaid work than the men. It also said that the Indian men spend considerably more time sleeping, eating, watching TV; relaxing in general.

Why then is the work done by homemakers not eligible for being paid? The International Wages for Housework Campaign started in Italy in 1972 under Selma James. It was based on the premise that housework was the basis of industrial work and should be duly paid for. The movement further spread to Britain and America. Silvia Federici, among the founders of the movement, in her book ‘Wages Against Housework’ wrote: “To ask for wages for housework will by itself undermine the expectations society has of us, since these expectations – the essence of our socialisation – are all functional to our wageless condition in the home.”

More recently, in 2014, Giulia Bongiorno, an Italian lawyer and ex-parliamentarian, proposed that homemakers should be paid a salary as a way of addressing the debate on domestic violence. She argued that most women continue in an abusive relationship because they don’t have a way out, as they are financially dependent on their partner. This does not mean that the salary would be dependent on victimisation, but that the role of the homemaker needs to be revisited and valued.

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