Wages for housewives: party's manifesto pledge stirs debate in India

by Anuradha Nagaraj | @anuranagaraj | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 7 January 2021 12:33 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: A housewife plays with her nine-month-old son Mittal outside their house in Mumbai August 22, 2012. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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Critics say proposal might end up confining even more Indian women to full-time domestic chores

By Anuradha Nagaraj

CHENNAI, India, Jan 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A political party's pledge to pay housewives a monthly wage in recognition of their toil has sparked debate in India, with some critics saying the proposal might end up confining even more women to domestic chores.

Makkal Needhi Maiam (People's Justice Centre), a regional party founded by actor Kamal Haasan in southern Tamil Nadu state in 2018, made the pledge as it campaigns for a state election due in May.

"Paying housewives for doing their job is an idea whose time has truly come and we shall ensure it," Haasan said in the party's election manifesto, without specifying how much homemakers would be paid or how the initiative would be funded.

While the details of the plan are still being worked out, the head of the party's women and child welfare unit, Mookambika Rathinam, said there was "growing support for this idea".

"Dr Haasan grew up surrounded by women in his home and he often gives the example of his elder sister, who despite being highly qualified chose to take care of her family. It's a lot of work that needs to be recognised as work," Rathinam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Besides cooking, cleaning and caring for children and elderly family members, Indian women also perform unpaid work in family businesses and low-paid labour in the informal sector, women's rights campaigners say.

"For decades we have been pointing out that housework by homemakers has to be recognised and quantified as work," said U Vasuki, national vice president of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA).

"So the idea is welcome as long as the intent is not just political gains in one election," she added.

However, as the proposal made a stir on social media, some commenters said it might further reduce the number of women seeking formal jobs in a nation with one of the lowest rates of female labour force participation.

"Any woman seeking a career would be now bullied to take government's money and stay home. Waaaaay to help empowerment," Twitter user Padma Pillai wrote.

Three-quarters of Indian women are either not working or looking for paid jobs, according to a recent government economic survey. It found 60% of women in the "productive age group" of 15 to 59 were engaged in full-time housework.

Others said the party's promise would be difficult to implement.

"How to ensure they are fairly compensated for the amount of work they do?," wrote a Twitter user called Ruhee, calling it a "half-baked idea".

"It can vary depending on household. What stops one from firing house-helps and dump more work on homemakers? Would labour laws apply?..." she added.

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(Reporting by Anuradha Nagaraj @AnuraNagaraj; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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