State-provided salaries for housewives can work alongside investment in public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and improved access to education, decent jobs and workplace protection (Shutterstock)
State-provided salaries for housewives can work alongside investment in public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and improved access to education, decent jobs and workplace protection (Shutterstock)

Opening the black box of marriage

There has been a debate recently over salaries for housewives
By Prabha Kotiswaran
UPDATED ON JAN 12, 2021 07:58 PM IST

There has been a debate recently over salaries for housewives. That politicians are taking it up is welcome. However, the reaction against it derives partly from an anxiety over commodification of what is seen as a labour of love, namely, a woman’s unpaid domestic and care work (UDCW) performed for her family.

Yet, various components of women’s UDCW are already commodified through paid domestic work, sex work, care work and surrogacy. Once we suspend commodification anxiety, wages for housework (WFH) is neither an outrageous idea nor a utopian one. Instead, a movement for wages for housework that goes beyond salaries for housewives can shake the foundations of patriarchy and is worthy of serious debate.

For one, India’s courts have developed a pathbreaking and robust “wages for housework” jurisprudence. My study of cases between 1968 and 2021 under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, reveals the consistent recognition by courts, including the Supreme Court (as recently as January 6), of the UDCW of deceased housewives. When approached by dependents for compensation for loss of services of housewives to the family, judges have quantified women’s UDCW to fix a notional monthly income, multiplied for her reproductive lifespan. This compensation is higher than an award for replacing her services or for loss of companionship.

The labour of housewives is, thus, compensated alongside that of male workers. Judges drew on constitutional law (Article 15), international human rights law, and feminist economics to recognise UDCW, resulting in significant symbolic and material gains. Some judges glorified maternal altruism, reinforcing gendered expectations of women’s labour within hetero-patriarchal marital forms. But other judges spoke of the changing nature of the household where women earned outside the home, even more than their husbands. They put UDCW on par with work outside the home.

Courts used various methods to measure pay, including the costs of replacement, the opportunity cost of UDCW, and women’s contribution to marriage as a partnership. But they pegged compensation to a woman’s motherhood status, number of children, age and educational qualifications generating poor intra-gender redistributive outcomes. Still, courts have moved beyond the threshold question of recognition for UDCW to addressing thorny questions of redistribution. Importantly, if courts can remunerate men for UDCW when housewives die, why not remunerate women for their UDCW when they are alive? Indeed, the Supreme Court (SC) in 2010 called on Parliament to introduce a community property regime (where income and property acquired by either spouse during a marriage belong to both partners) to compensate women’s UDCW upon divorce.

The SC also took strong objection to census authorities listing homemakers alongside beggars and prisoners (considered unproductive) and not accounting for women’s unpaid subsistence work. Indeed, feminist economists have long shown how the census is riddled with enumerator and respondent biases. Women’s UDCW is not considered to be work, which is a definitional bias. Yet, we lament the declining female labour force participation rate (FLFPR). But if the WFH jurisprudence is taken seriously and the census measures the labour women actually perform — UDCW and subsistence work — we can puncture the seemingly urgent “problem“ of declining FLFPR and avoid holding up paid work as a panacea where decent jobs are already rare to come by.

Finally, we must call out the subsidies that women’s UDCW provide to the State, capital and patriarchy. The WFH movement aimed to do this, by putting a price on housework to reject housework rather than lobby for salaries for housewives. Although WFH has been repackaged to demand universal basic income (UBI), I am not arguing for UBI. Instead, let us experiment with paying salaries to housewives.

By the age of 30, 95% of women are married while divorce rates are only 2.6%. The 2011 census shows 160 million women with “household work” as their main occupation, and there are possibly more. Where a woman is faced with compulsory marriage, has difficulty realising equal inheritance rights over natal property, and has no access to community property upon divorce, wages for UDCW will improve her bargaining power, allowing her to exit marriage. A salary risks entrenching gendered stereotypes for sure; some husbands will demand more UDCW, but they do this anyway. We must open the black box of marriage to fundamentally restructure it for women’s economic empowerment.

State-provided salaries for housewives can work alongside continued investment in public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and improved access to education, decent jobs and workplace protection. The government’s cash transfer of 500 for three months to poor women’s Jan Dhan accounts post-pandemic and focus on LPG provision suggest awareness of women’s role in managing households.

Valuing UDCW will also have ripple effects for the millions of ASHAs, anganwadi workers, school teachers and domestic workers whose labour is viewed as an extension of UDCW, as “intuitively feminine” and, thereby, devalued and underpaid. Finally, every man who has swept, mopped or washed utensils through the pandemic likely has a newfound respect for women’s UDCW. If we do not recognise women’s UDCW now, then when? As Seema Nandy, a housewife, once observed (in response to the Kolkata mayor’s proposal to license sex workers), “We labour, that is why we eat, a license is what we need.”

Prabha Kotiswaran is professor of Law and Social Justice at King’s College London

The views expressed are personal

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
app
Close
The incoming Joe Biden administration will avoid many of the personality-related pitfalls of its predecessor, and the presence of a core group of advisers in key security agencies suggests that coordination may be better than the first Obama term (REUTERS)
The incoming Joe Biden administration will avoid many of the personality-related pitfalls of its predecessor, and the presence of a core group of advisers in key security agencies suggests that coordination may be better than the first Obama term (REUTERS)

All the President’s men and women

By Dhruva Jaishankar
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 07:02 PM IST
The incoming US national security and foreign policy team looks, on paper, to be one of the most experienced in history. How it translates into outcomes is to be seen
Close
While such incidents have raised issues of institutional discrimination, there are constant attempts, as was also done in Vemula’s case, to evade institutional accountability by attributing these instances as being incident-specific. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)
While such incidents have raised issues of institutional discrimination, there are constant attempts, as was also done in Vemula’s case, to evade institutional accountability by attributing these instances as being incident-specific. (Sanchit Khanna/HT PHOTO)

The modern form of institutionalised casteism

By Anurag Bhaskar
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:44 PM IST
India needs to move beyond tokenism of having one Dalit chief justice or two Dalit presidents, and ensure adequate representation to its Dalit and Adivasi citizens in all fields
Close
Pro-Trump protesters storm the Capitol Building, January 6. (REUTERS)
Pro-Trump protesters storm the Capitol Building, January 6. (REUTERS)

The psychology of Trump’s supporters

By Yashwant Raj
PUBLISHED ON JAN 15, 2021 06:35 PM IST
As President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the United States (US) Capitol on January 6, I wondered if a man I had interviewed at a Trump rally in Pennsylvania was among them.
Close
There are many common problems in smallholder agriculture, such as low productivity, investments and market access, which keep farm incomes low across India (PTI)
There are many common problems in smallholder agriculture, such as low productivity, investments and market access, which keep farm incomes low across India (PTI)

Farm laws: What India can learn from Kenya’s agri experiment

By Swati Dhingra
UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 08:38 AM IST
Recent research at the London School of Economics examines a decade of high-quality farmer-buyer data from Kenya during a period when it introduced radical farm laws to encourage agri-businesses to determine impacts on small farmers
Close
At the heart of the conflict is an acute trust deficit, a deepening mistrust of the nexus between untrammelled State power and big business (Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)
At the heart of the conflict is an acute trust deficit, a deepening mistrust of the nexus between untrammelled State power and big business (Biplov Bhuyan/HT PHOTO)

The anti-corporate texture of farm protests

UPDATED ON JAN 15, 2021 08:38 AM IST
It is symbolic of a wider discontent against emerging market monopolies and fears of this being replicated in the agricultural sector
Close
Countries concerned about China’s dominance are likely to prioritise strategic implications of investments over India’s economic inefficiencies (AP)
Countries concerned about China’s dominance are likely to prioritise strategic implications of investments over India’s economic inefficiencies (AP)

Weaning away foreign investment from China

By Manoj Kewalramani
PUBLISHED ON JAN 14, 2021 07:29 PM IST
Capitalising on emergent geopolitical trends entails working with like-minded partners focusing on sectors with national security implications
Close
Despite all efforts, the gross domestic expenditure on R&D as a fraction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has declined from 0.8% in 2010 to 0.6% in 2018. It has been hovering around this level for more than two decades. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Despite all efforts, the gross domestic expenditure on R&D as a fraction of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has declined from 0.8% in 2010 to 0.6% in 2018. It has been hovering around this level for more than two decades. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

To truly become self-reliant, invest in research and development

By Rahul Mazumdar
PUBLISHED ON JAN 13, 2021 08:30 PM IST
India has always been found lacking in terms of academia-industry linkages. This is a bedrock in developed economies.
Close
The British Raj responded as it did in Champaran 104 years ago. Swaraj must do likewise and enter its 75th year with the glow of the health and happiness of farmers on its forehead. This is its “indigo moment”. (Sameer Sehgal/HTPhoto)
The British Raj responded as it did in Champaran 104 years ago. Swaraj must do likewise and enter its 75th year with the glow of the health and happiness of farmers on its forehead. This is its “indigo moment”. (Sameer Sehgal/HTPhoto)

Champaran to Singhu: A tale of two satyagrahas

PUBLISHED ON JAN 13, 2021 07:47 PM IST
To assuage the protesting farmers, the Centre must suspend the Acts indefinitely, refer demands to the Inter-State Council; and call a Parliament session
Close
When Facebook gains the data on a billion Indians, it will be able to hold the Indian government hostage too. It didn’t dare to pull this stunt in Europe because of the General Data Protection Regulations (AP)
When Facebook gains the data on a billion Indians, it will be able to hold the Indian government hostage too. It didn’t dare to pull this stunt in Europe because of the General Data Protection Regulations (AP)

At the mercy of big tech billionaires

By Vivek Wadhwa
PUBLISHED ON JAN 13, 2021 07:46 PM IST
India needs stringent data protection laws. It also needs to encourage its tech industry to develop competitive social media products
Close
Data as a beneficial good is also covered in the Economic Survey 2019, which proposed that data gathered by governments on issues of social interest ought to be democratised in the interest of social welfare, or made a public good (Indranil Bhoumik/mint)
Data as a beneficial good is also covered in the Economic Survey 2019, which proposed that data gathered by governments on issues of social interest ought to be democratised in the interest of social welfare, or made a public good (Indranil Bhoumik/mint)

Data can be an asset for governance, growth and public welfare

By Amitabh Kant and Desh Gaurav Sekhri
PUBLISHED ON JAN 12, 2021 08:16 PM IST
Data is a critical component for measurable and actionable governance and policy perspectives, as well as for triggering innovation and growth
Close
Experts say preventing bird flu is not possible as little research has been done on the virus-carrying capability of migratory birds in CAF (Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times)
Experts say preventing bird flu is not possible as little research has been done on the virus-carrying capability of migratory birds in CAF (Parveen Kumar/Hindustan Times)

Handling the avian flu crisis | HT Editorial

PUBLISHED ON JAN 12, 2021 08:00 PM IST
2021 has started with an unprecedented bird flu epidemic in India, causing the death of thousands of wild and poultry birds in 10 states and bleeding the fast-growing poultry industry for a second time over the past year
Close
Assam, Jan 11 (ANI): BJP national president J.P. Nadda addresses the BJP supporters during a public meeting, at the Police parade ground in Silchar on Monday. (ANI)
Assam, Jan 11 (ANI): BJP national president J.P. Nadda addresses the BJP supporters during a public meeting, at the Police parade ground in Silchar on Monday. (ANI)

The BJP’s political pitch in Assam | HT Editorial

PUBLISHED ON JAN 12, 2021 08:00 PM IST
Even as it starts out as the favourite, the BJP must be careful in how it navigates the historical tensions on identity in the region
Close
Every year, floods and droughts affect 97.5 million and 140 million people, respectively (UDAY DEOLEKAR)
Every year, floods and droughts affect 97.5 million and 140 million people, respectively (UDAY DEOLEKAR)

Commit to a decade of climate resilience

By Arunabha Ghosh
PUBLISHED ON JAN 12, 2021 07:58 PM IST
India’s vulnerability to climate risks, growing experience with handling disasters, and new initiatives to strengthen infrastructure position it at the forefront for an adaptation action agenda
Close
State-provided salaries for housewives can work alongside investment in public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and improved access to education, decent jobs and workplace protection (Shutterstock)
State-provided salaries for housewives can work alongside investment in public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and improved access to education, decent jobs and workplace protection (Shutterstock)

Opening the black box of marriage

By Prabha Kotiswaran
UPDATED ON JAN 12, 2021 07:58 PM IST
There has been a debate recently over salaries for housewives
Close
Our study found an absence of in-group bias in one context, but it does not rule out other forms of bias in India’s legal system as a whole (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Our study found an absence of in-group bias in one context, but it does not rule out other forms of bias in India’s legal system as a whole (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

In India’s lower judiciary, the absence of in-group bias

By Sam Asher, Paul Novosad and Aditi Bhowmick
UPDATED ON JAN 11, 2021 10:59 PM IST
There is evidence from around the world that judges discriminate in favour of litigants who share their identity. In contrast, we find no evidence of in-group bias by gender or religion in India’s lower judiciary.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP