Kamal Hassan’s proposal for salary to the homemaker in his election manifesto has stirred up a hornet’s nest. Debates are rife everywhere. This is a topic of contention that has hit a nerve in many houses. A debate aired last night on television on this topic left me sleepless. Salary for homemaker, hmmph, I thought. A cacophony of emotions erupted. A jog down the memory lane brought many households to my mind. I felt elated at one moment for household work is finally receiving the due reward. Next moment it brought in a different set of emotions. Will this help in women empowerment? Is this about financial independence for women? And will it change the role of a woman in the society?
With the questions about women empowerment and financial independence for women in the mind, I pushed through the night. Every women empowerment article must discuss this aspect, I thought. So, the next morning I got my friends and family on the other side of the phone to analyze this. Emotions were really running high. Everyone I spoke to had their own set of arguments. Husbands earning, while wives take care of the houses has been the normative way of life. ‘Then why this sudden idea of salaries?’, some asked. This left me wondering if we are not yet ready to accept a change in the role of a woman in the society.
India’s economy is growing, with an increasing GDP and a working-age population expected to climb to over 800 million people by 2050. Despite this growth, less than one-quarter (20.3%) of women aged 15 and older participate in the labor force as of 2020.Data from the World Bank
A homemaker is always dependent on her husband. This has been a norm and nurtures the thought that there is nothing wrong with it. But, it is undeniable that financial dependency has lead to suppression.
Women empowerment or putting a price tag?
The idea of salary to a homemaker is to enable women empowerment and financial independence for women. On the other hand, opposers have a different view to offer. ‘Is it alright to place a price tag on what a homemaker does for her family? Shall/can we measure her love and care in with money?’ In any scenario, it was undeniable that the perception of the role of a woman in the society has to change. The housework is invisible and unpaid work, hence the least appreciated.
There are families where the woman gets pocket money but has to account for every penny spent. Also, there are proverbial needles in a haystack where the husband proactively slips money into his wife’s purse. Thus the wives don’t have to feel the unease of asking for every penny. Does this provide financial independence for women?
As I pursued the topic further, these conflicting arguments came to the spolight time and again.
1. Romanticizing household chores
A woman has always been the primary caregiver in the house. She is the one who converts a house of brick and mortar into a home with her love and care. Our grandmothers and mothers have done it, and we are keeping on the practice. A picture of a happy balanced home! All is well, till there are love and respect. But when the identity of a homemaker reduces to housework alone, friction arises.
When housework is invisible and unpaid work, society looks upon homemakers’ contribution as void. Also, the fact that housework has to be a shared responsibility is neglected. The basic issue is the practice of romanticizing it to the point that a woman’s life cannot be seen beyond it. Give them time and opportunity to pursue a passion or profession and earn for themselves. Conditioning sons from early on to do housework as a shared responsibility is the first step towards women empowerment.
2. Is a salary to housewives enough for women empowerment?
By giving a salary we can acknowledge their work. A salary accredits them by giving financial independence for women, provided we take many other factors into account. The result is relative to the families. Where there is no respect for women, salary becomes an exhibit. Hence, the change in the mindset is imperative. The fact that housework is invisible and unpaid work makes women the most vulnerable in the family. Even women from affluent families, who have no dearth of money, bear contempt. This second-class citizenship within the house is the barrier to women empowerment. Hence, the notion of the role of a woman in the society must change. A salary can be one of the main aspects that could make a change on a larger scale.
3. Financial independence and women empowerment
Women who have never stepped out of their homes to work rely on male members for money. Due to this, women dread walking out of abusive homes. This in turn leads to suppression and domestic violence. There have been many instances of ill-treatment, psychological, and physical abuse in relation to this. Hence, securing these women in a society which views that housework is invisible and unpaid work is vital. This is where salary to homemaker becomes the key player. It provides financial independence for women, that we have been discussing thereby enabling them to stand up against abuse.
4. Should we monetize a woman’s love and care?
A mother’s love, a wife’s care, and devotion are invaluable. Many opined that salary commodifies women’s role in society. But where would one draw the line? The best way for the family to reward her is to give her love, respect, and treat her as an equal. The salary is not a price tag to her emotions and efforts but it is a reward for her efforts.
A homemaker is a partner who deserves equal priority and that is paramount in a family. Working inside or outside should be her choice. In addition, women empowerment should start with enabling them to reach their full potential. In a world of online jobs for stay at home moms, the options of women empowerment are many.
5. Validate housework that is invisible and unpaid by the monetization
Barbara Seel’s, ‘Legitimizing unpaid household work by monetization – achievements and problems’ defines housework as, ‘”Household production consists of those unpaid activities which are carried on, by and for the members, which activities might be replaced by market goods or paid services, if circumstances such as income, market conditions, and personal inclinations permit the service being delegated to someone outside the household group”’.
In a case study prepared by the Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF) and HealthBridge, it is noted that women carry out about 33 tasks in a day. After assigning a very low wage rate to these tasks, an annual for this unpaid housework was USD 612.8 billion, 61% of GDP. Quite a figure there. The study talks about how to address gender bias. Undervaluing a woman’s work can be addressed if the work does can be presented in a monetized format.
Housework is invisible and unpaid work but if women would stop doing housework, the economy would change. The cost of many goods and services would go up. Some food for thought here. Economic times, in a women empowerment article, estimated that women deserve a minimum of forty-five thousand rupees per month. Hence salary can be the first step in providing financial independence for women thereby changing the role of women in the society.
Arguments on both sides are many. A debate on whether women deserve a salary or not has begun. But the bottom line is, women across every stratum are exploited and ill-treated. It is high time the role of women in society changes. Financial independence for women is imperative and women empowerment is a requisite for a happy future.