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It's Time We Pay For That Housework!
As we extend our helping hand to them, fuelled equally by a sense of guilt and equally by our innate sense of humanity, we need to look around us and see in which other spheres can we help balance out the scales.
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Does a crisis have collateral benefits? I suppose that depends on how you look at things. People of the glass half full variety will invariably find an upside in every downturn no matter how slippery the slope. And so it is with the current pandemic we are all facing. It is unprecedented, it is mammoth, it has scared all of us out of the hubris-filled, self-satisfied bubbles that we were floating in, and has created displacements in our physical, emotional and spiritual lives which are truly tectonic in nature.
Hopefully when it is all over, we as a species would have learnt many a- lesson from it. Maybe we will finally learn how to respect nature, how to consume less, focus only on the essentials and how to develop survival strategies for our loved ones and for ourselves based on self-healing and sustainability. I certainly hope that we will also recognize the massive inequality that exists in our society and how the disenfranchised, the marginalized, the poor and the weak have been the largest sufferers in loss of lives and livelihoods in these traumatic times. May be we will finally notice and see those who have lived on the same planet as us, but almost in a parallel less entitled and less privileged reality as part of the great unseen masses; existing only in our peripheral vision, because they have been made evident by the sheer enormity of the catastrophic misfortunes that have befallen them.
As we extend our helping hand to them, fuelled equally by a sense of guilt and equally by our innate sense of humanity, we need to look around us and see in which other spheres can we help balance out the scales. Where does inequality in all its obvious or subterranean ways exist, and can we finally do something about it? The universe has been nudging us to correct our wrongs for a while now, and finally in sheer impatience it has given us a sharp shove -to do something!
It is manifestly clear that we haven’t been mindful of the inequities around us at all -both small and big ones. Sometimes because they have been such a common part of our life that we don’t even recognize them as discrimination, and sometimes because we have chosen deliberately to be wilful discriminators. Whether mother always took the leftover parts of the fish after having given the tastier portions to father and no one blinked an eye because that was considered the right thing to do, or whether the elders and leaders of the community decided that mobile phones could not be owned by women; inequality has existed because we as individuals or as a society have allowed it to flourish and to perpetuate.
In this crisis and its subsequent WFH fallout; a subterranean and quotidian activity that has popped up and smacked us straight in the face has been the sheer amount of housework that is required to keep a home functioning smoothly. There is clearly a huge volume of work that is required to ensure that a small family of four is fed, clothed, cleaned and educated. One set of dishes in the sink get replaced by another and then another. Breakfast has not even made its way half way down the digestive system when it is time to prepare lunch. Clothes have to be washed, dried, ironed and put away. The house swept and swabbed and (for the worry-warts) sanitized too. And deep cleaning required every month lest the fans and the windows and the sofas become harbingers of dust, germs and mites! It clearly is a full time job. Added to that is the parenting and PTA meetings, the caring for senior citizens at home, the inventory management of the kitchen and the social commitments that are a necessary part of living in communities.
Women across the world whether working or non-working have ended up picking up the lion’s share of this load. Whether they do the actual work themselves or delegate it to household help, the fact is that women are the managers of the household and the ones in charge of the family and its well-being! Infact, even before the Covid induced lockdown, an Indian woman would do far more “unpaid work” than her peers in most other countries, according to a 2015 survey by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development. As per the survey, women in India spend nearly six hours each day on average tending to family responsibilities. Indian men, on the other hand, spend less than an hour each day, making them one of the worst on this front. Sadly, these figures haven’t improved in the last few years. As per The India Inequality Report 2020, released by non-profit Oxfam India in January 2020, women spend 312 minutes per day in urban areas and 291 minutes daily in rural areas on unpaid care work. Men, on the other hand, spend only 29 minutes (urban) and 32 minutes (rural) taking care of responsibilities on the home front.
So isn’t it time that we acknowledged and more importantly paid for this “unpaid work”? Isn’t it time that half the income the CWE (Chief Wage Earner) of the house earns be attributed and given to his or her partner – the person responsible for keeping the household running like clockwork so that the CWE can concentrate solely and fully on the career?
My son recently took great umbrage at the vanity posting on social media being done by men as they WFH, on how they were cooking that perfectly fluffy omelette or making khichdi exactly as per Ma’s original recipe. He disdainfully commented that it was exactly similar to a non-working spouse posting pictures of pivot tables in excel, as a proud demonstration of all the hard work being done.
You get paid for making those pivot tables don’t you? So why should your spouse not get paid for all those fluffy omelettes and tasty khichdis he/she has been churning out day after day?
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.