Sunday, April 24, 2011

We need to recognise housework as contributing to our economy as women's time is spent at home instead of earning outside...

Has the paradigm for women labour changed?
Ranchi: Across millions of households in India, straddling the rural and urban, there seems to be a tacit understanding that women of the house including girls should put in long hours of work to ensure the functioning of the house and the comfort of all members.

This assumption invariably is followed by another one that the work done by women across millions of households across the country does not amount to a contribution to the family or society or the economy. In a nutshell, the hours of cleaning, cooking, rearing children, looking after the sick and elderly, fetching water, cattle rearing and a multitude of tasks especially in agricultural based homes is simply unrecognised.

The term for it is 'service', in the larger ambit of 'family and social duty' and is perceived to be different from the contribution of men, which is 'labour'.

This view pervades across society. In a personal or subjective sphere, this would amount to an undervaluing of women, leading to discrimination. In a larger arena or a more objective sense, this engenders an erroneous evaluation of the women''s contribution to society, and a miscalculation of her worth to the economy.

If one were to calculate or put a figure on it, the picture could change drastically. The wheels of social progress, the growth of the economy is today dependent on the labour of women. This needs to be quantified so that it is recognised and due value given to it. It should also lead to changing social perceptions, which view women''s role in society as 'unproductive'.

Apart from domestic or household work, more women are likely to be involved in 'undocumented' or 'disguised' work like farm labourers, domestic or artisan. According to a 1991 World Bank Report this could be 90 per cent of working women.

Women are also less likely to be counted into the official workforce as many of these overlap with the ''household'' work category. In fact it is crucial that such errors are dispensed with and the leaders in society and indeed the political leadership in any region or country factor this in while planning for economic growth and social development.

From the four walls of domesticity, this view pervades the larger labour market. Invariably women get lower wages than men. It is true that in modern economies, the opportunities for women have opened up and they ''man'' or perhaps to use a more appropriate term, they ''woman'' diverse fields from agriculture, construction, healthcare, banks, schools, marketing, science, research, infact practically every field or endeavour of human activity.

Yet they remain marginalized; and are a category of citizens who provide equal work on lower wages.

Given the entrenched systems of thought and practice, it has been a long struggle by women''s groups and social activists of questioning fundamental attitudes of discrimination towards women, one that reflects in economic disparities and of course in social mores.

Women in India are gradually becoming aware of their rights, but the pace is painfully slow. That the odds are heavily stacked against them is a given; the challenge is how to go around it.

Movements that demand 'Equal Wages for Equal Work' is one. Clarity and vision needed to give women their due place in the social, economic and political spheres of the country.

Understandably this is a huge challenge. It calls for not only changing stereotypes, but also evolving policies, allocating funds and ensuring implementation. One of the crucial areas, which are crying out for this kind of attention, is the issue of women labourers working in the unorganised sector.

According to 1991 census, alarming 95 per cent women belong to this category. Do they get equal wages for their labour as men? What about facilities which women workforce requires and infact is an agenda for many social and political movements. Maternity benefits, crèche or day-care facilities for children, toilets form this agenda which governments are then pressured to adopt. Again, the extent to which women are taken care of shows the maturity of not only the women''s movements but the stage of evolution of any society across the world.

We are sadly not very high on this scale. A report prepared by the Lok Sabha Standing Committee on Labour under Sudhakar Reddy in 2006 outlines the unorganized labourer social security. Women who do not get salary, wages or benefits from the market are excluded from the term 'labourers'. Nor does it provide for labour rights, or social security rights, for women.

It then seems preposterous to say that women, the large unorganized, unrecognized workforce is at the crossroads.

Terming the 'labour' of women as 'service' or 'devotion' or 'shramdaan' does not hide the calumny; it brings it out in even sharper ways. The Constitution of India seeks to promote and sustain democratic values, social justice and equity.

The Government of India is meant to take this as the foundational guideline and evolve policies to further a prosperous, just and equitable society. So why are women sidelined in countless ways as she goes about her business of living, earning, nurturing, and contributing to society?

Why this endemic discrimination, both at the work place and at home, her supposedly safe haven? Infact, the Charkha Development Communications, feels the safe haven needs to extend beyond the home to the larger society and nation. Only then can our society and this nation really evolve.

Sify news

March 2, 2011

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