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Homemakers contribute hugely to the economy; don’t marginalise and ignore them

The man who helps out in the house is seen as a role model, someone worthy of praise. Yet, a woman performing the same roles is taken for granted

columns Updated: Apr 11, 2019 12:34 IST
Lalita Panicker
Lalita Panicker
Hindustan Times
(Arun Sharma/HT PHOTO)

Superachiever, multi-tasker, wonderwoman – these are some of the compliments that many women who manage home and career often get. They are capacious words which hide a multitude of stressful tasks which many women are supposed to negotiate with ease. But, for those who do not have vast support systems, these labels amount to a crown of thorns. Women must look after their homes, their children, cater to the demands of parents and in-laws, be caregivers for the elderly and execute a myriad other chores. This means that women are hugely overworked, often to the point of death. Which explains why, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, the suicide rate for homemakers is much higher than the average for India. The suicide rate for Indian women is at least two times higher than for developed countries.

The one reason I can think of for this is that aspirations have gone up with the exponential growth of the media and also the increase in female literacy though it is far less than it should be. From school, girls have high ambitions which often die with marriage. In a tiny hamlet in the picturesque Araku Valley in Andhra Pradesh, girls in a school I once visited run by an NGO spoke about being pilots and hoteliers. Not for them the common and garden jobs that I aspired to at that age. In Muslim-dominated Mallapuram district in Kerala, girls under the watchful eye of their headmistress told me that they wanted to be yes, again pilots and IT professionals. But statistics suggest that it is marriage which takes precedence once school is over for many of these girls. Imagine the loss they must feel at all these ambitions being grounded and their role redefined to being wives, mothers and unpaid caregivers.

One reason for this is the perceived economic worthlessness of women. Though women’s work helps men to be productive, this contribution is largely unnoticed. It is extremely difficult to quantify how much women contribute to the economy with their unsung work but it would run into the billions or beyond.

The need to give women the support they need to work and also care for their families cannot always be reduced to contributions to the GDP. This dehumanises the whole debate. Yes, indeed if more women were in the workforce, the economy would benefit hugely. In fact, the figure is $ 700 billion in additional GDP by 2025.

As much as the economics of it, the state and private companies can certainly help lessen the stress on women. We need many more child care programmes. The state has over 1.3 million anganwadis for children up to the age of six, but after that age, what does a mother do if she wants to work? The choice is leaving the child in the care of family or neighbours, not always available or even desirable. From time to time, we hear noble sentiments about how crèches at the workplace would mean a contented and productive mother, or in some cases, father. But with just 23,000 such facilities in the organised sector which caters to poorer families, this hardly makes a significant difference in encouraging women to join the workforce.

I have often noticed that the man who helps out in the house is seen as a role model, someone worthy of praise. Yet, a woman performing the same roles is taken for granted.

I think the dignity of labour is something that boys should learn in school. Men should consider it perfectly all right to give up a night out with the boys to look after the children or cook and not be considered a sissy or henpecked. In rural areas, where roles are more set in stone, only State support in the form of literacy and child care can free up women to pursue their dreams. An economically empowered woman brings about seismic changes to her family, in their healthcare, education and in the attitude towards their girl children. It is a dividend that we cannot miss. I have heard people saying that their daughters should take up jobs which have fixed hours and long holidays so that they can look after their families too. I often think of those bright young girls who wanted to be pilots and hoteliers. When they have a fighting chance to realise those ambitions, we can be said to be truly a nation on the move.

First Published: Nov 04, 2017 13:06 IST