Women in our country are marginalised, humiliated, sidelined and kept away from all sources of power and freedom. They are denied the right to higher education as the parents themselves believe that they are destined to end up in the kitchen. In some cases, they are even compelled to marry in their childhood, are forced to maternity and thereby suffer poor health conditions. Women toil the whole day long still they aren’t paid well. Also, they’re not even given opportunities to work in top jobs! Even within the context of paid labour, women will often, for various reasons, end up taking on thankless volunteer tasks. While there is much academic debate on this topic, there is a need to evaluate women’s domestic work to mainstream it.
Our economies all over the world are built on the ‘backs of women’s unpaid labor’. And so, we’ve got to recognize it. Even as women are increasingly taking on a larger role in the paid workforce, they’re still expected to take on the bulk of chores, like laundry, cooking, cleaning and child care that allow households to function. Whether by choice or not, men still end up doing more paid work. Women, even full-time working women, spend fewer hours on average doing paid work than their husbands or partners do. That may be due to the fact that there’s this expectation or default arrangement where they are doing more of the child care or housework. If women’s paid participation in the formal economy was equivalent to that of men, it would add $28 trillion or 26% to global GDP, according to a report by McKinsey & Company.
Economists measure productivity in terms of what happens in the workplace and most of them didn’t ever bother to measure all of the unpaid work that goes on outside of the workplace. They didn’t even really call it work. But whether you are doing homework with kids, filling insurance forms, reconciling your bank account, gathering wood, or carrying water from a well, those tasks take minutes and hours. All of the work mentioned is what women predominantly are expected and do around the world. Our economies are built on the back of that labor. Unless we recognize it and truly call it what it is, we won’t have the opportunity to redistribute the work or figure out other means to make some of that work easier. A large part of the male dominated patriarchal society undervalued the contribution of women’s labour in the household, even though immense and very labourious work is done by women in both rural and urban areas, which helped in enhancing productivity of the men in the household too. There is a need to recognize this ‘invisible’ work and value it. The valuation of such unpaid and unrecognized labour which eventually contributes to economy and human capital, is thus essential.
Women’s disproportionate burden of unpaid work at home restricts women from taking up paid jobs, undertaking advanced education and skills training, and most importantly—participating in public life. The household chores also have economic value but is not counted in traditional measures of GDP. It is estimated that unpaid work being undertaken by women today amounts to as much as $10 trillion of output per year, roughly equivalent to 13 percent of global GDP. The assumption that women will take on child care and other responsibilities may mean that they are subconsciously passed up for career opportunities, like more travel or international placements, that could lead both to career development and more money.
By recognising unpaid labour as genuine work, India will not only benefit in terms of its GDP figures but also empower its women. Once recognised as work, this arena of unpaid domestic labour that is dominated almost entirely by women can become one where women can demand some degree of parity in terms of the time and energy expended on it. Structural changes need to be made so that this work is recognised, acknowledged, compensated and distributed. It can’t fall on women to try to change the world they live in. This world has to pull its weight. UNDP supports countries to address the unequal distribution of unpaid care work between men and women through a variety of initiatives, from improving infrastructure to ensure access to water, sanitation, roads and healthcare to making investments in family care services, maternity and paternity leave policies, and flexible work arrangements.
On average, women around the world spend more than twice as many hours as men on unpaid work. While they spend on average more minutes per day working than men, they don’t get compensated for more than half of it. The work, both paid and unpaid, is part of the country’s economy and institutional non-recognition of unpaid and invisible labour in any form leads to exclusion of the workforce, mostly women, from pension schemes and other benefits designed for labour. Women also fear that if their child care breaks down, they’ll be absent from their jobs, they’ll get fired, and when they will again find a new job they will have to start from a lower level. Hegewisch said “You’re basically trapped in a cycle of bad jobs because of the lack of reliability.” This also means that low-income women who perform care giving, cooking or cleaning work for pay also suffer because their jobs end up being undervalued.
The respect of women in Indian society is linked to their economic status. In many countries other than India too, by making women primarily responsible for unpaid or low paid work and childcare, and by making men primarily responsible for wage labour, the gender division of labour tends to benefit men and keeps women, by and large unequal to men in the labour market as well in the society. This perpetuates gender-based inequalities which result in other forms of discrimination and unequal societal norms. It is high time that we start valuing the disproportionate amount of so-called “unpaid work” that millions of women do each day, from cooking to cleaning to childcare. Valuation of unpaid and invisible labour by women will lead to quantification of women’s contribution to the economy. It will help in establishing her claim on national exchequer and inclusion in national policy, claim in establishing and determining legal compensation in case of divorce and in empowering women.