Economic Value of Homemakers

Jyoti Shekar

Our value systems are always evolving, and change with time. While honesty was most important at one time, smartness is more important in today’s world. While hard work was a virtue at one point, smart work is the order of the day now. But one thing remains constant, whether we accept it or not – a human being’s worth is calculated on the basis of their wealth. So much so that even self worth is popularly based on how much we earn. And that is why there is a deep psychological connection between having a job and having confidence.

As we always say, financial empowerment is the most important form of empowerment, indeed the first step towards it. When you have the money or the potential to earn money, it is easy to say ‘I will live life on my own terms.’ Otherwise, it becomes obligatory to listen to the ‘provider’ or ‘bread winner’ of the family.

Honestly, I hate both these terms. Because guess what? The so called ‘provider’ only provides for one half of the requirement. Conversion of money into food and nutrition takes some doing. And that’s what homemakers do. It is easy to bring the dough for the bread, but it is quite a process to make something edible out of it to feed everyone in the family, while keeping in mind that everyone’s tastes are catered to.

Unbelievable, right? Let us look at some statistics.

There was a report released by the National Statistical Office of the Ministry of Statistics & Programme Implementation (Government of India) called ‘Time Use in India 20191. This is a very interesting survey, first ever in the country, to measure participation of men and women in paid and unpaid activities. 

The report collated information from 1,38,799 households (both rural and urban) in the calendar year 2019 which reflected the same old gender disparity in a more relatable way. In essence, the report said that on an average, women spend about 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members as opposed to only 97 minutes spent by men on these activities. In that respect, there is not much difference between rural and urban households. In rural, women spend 301 minutes a day and men around 98 minutes; in urban, women spend around 293 minutes as against 94 minutes by men.

In a way, rural life seems a better bet as women are blessed with 4 minutes of extra contribution from their menfolk! (Of course, they work harder too.)

Similarly, women on average spend 134 minutes on unpaid caregiving services for household members in a day as compared to the 76 minutes spent by men.

Mind you, this data covers working women as well. After all this, we constantly hear that women have gone crazy and lost values and do not look after their families. You know what, the more we do for a person, the more they are going to expect. That is human nature.

Further, in employment related activities, women spend 333 minutes a day as opposed to 459 minutes a day by men. This gap is not as much as the ones seen earlier. And here I thought, we all get the same number of minutes every day. Sigh!!!

This was highlighted by the Supreme Court in a recent judgment against an insurance company in a motor accident case2. The judgment itself deals with the technical issue how to arrive at the net worth of the deceased victims in order to compensate the family. In this case, a couple had an accident and died on the spot. The important question that arose was how much value to be assigned to the wife, who was a homemaker. Although the Courts have, at least in the recent past, assigned some monetary value to the work of the homemakers, the actual amount to be calculated still remains a grey area.

In this context, the Court made some observations on the worth of a mother and a wife, whose love and contribution to the family remains invaluable, but at the same time, needs to be valued fairly. Justice NV Ramana stated that:

‘…the conception that housemakers do not “work” or that they do not add economic value to the household is a problematic idea that has persisted for many years and must be overcome.’  

He goes on to say that the gender differences in time use are significant and prevalent world over, not just India. A 2009 report by a Commission set up by the French Government, analyzing data from six countries, viz. Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, France, Finland and the United States of America, highlighted this fact by stating that in each of the countries under consideration, men spend more time in paid work than women and the converse is true for unpaid work. Men also spend more time on leisure than women. The implication is that women provide household services but other members of the household benefit.

Justice NV Ramana also cited a 2010 insurance case3, where the concurring judgment by Supreme Court Justice GS Singhvi highlighted this bias, stating that:

This bias is shockingly prevalent in the work of census. In the Census of 2001 it appears that those who are doing household duties like cooking, cleaning of utensils, looking after children, fetching water, collecting firewood have been categorised as non­workers and equated with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners who, according to the census, are not engaged in economically productive work. As a result of such categorization about 36 crores (367 million) women in India have been classified in the Census of India, 2001 as non­workers and placed in the category of beggars, prostitutes and prisoners. This entire exercise of census operations is done under an Act of Parliament.

It is shocking how the work of a woman is perceived. It is upon people’s own convenience that they say that a woman’s work at home is important and even divine, since they want the work done. On the other hand, it is the same woman who has to listen to people shushing her and telling her she does not know anything. On the other hand, a working woman is construed as lacking character is some societies, but then they do want her to give up her salary for the household benefit. Either way, whatever she does, there will be a section of the society which is going to undervalue her work or give it value for their own benefit.

So it falls on women to know their value, whether at home and outside. At the end, your worth comes from your own confidence and not from other people telling you or putting a monetary value on you. But if they ever question you or say you don’t know anything, spew out the above data in a rant and that should shut them up!

To end on a lighter (or maybe thoughtful) note, every action of a woman has an impact on the economy. This was already known way back in the 1920s when the economist Pigou noted the oddity and contradictions when it came to the calculation of the contribution of women in the national income, by stating that:

…the services rendered by women enter into the dividend when they are rendered in exchange for wages, whether in the factory or in the home, but do not enter into it when they are rendered by mothers and wives gratuitously to their own families. Thus, if a man marries his housekeeper or his cook, the national dividend is diminished.

Footnotes:

  1. NSS REPORT: TIME USE IN INDIA- 2019 (JANUARY – DECEMBER 2019)
  2. Kirti v Oriental Insurance Co Ltd Civil Appeal Nos 19-20 of 2021 [Judgment dated 5 January 2021]
  3. Arun Kumar Agrawal v. National Insurance Co. Ltd., (2010)  9  SCC  218

*All images used in this article are either Eyra’s own design or widely and freely available on the internet.*

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