‘Value’ of unpaid work by women

womens work
Still from the movie Lunch Box

In analyzing economic data, various sectors like industry, agriculture, services, etc are taken into account. But domestic work done by women is rarely ‘measured’ by analysts. A woman getting up early to make ready food for working husbands is very valuable but it does not figure in the estimates relating to economic figures.

Some estimates

In an article ( Women’s unpaid work:some statistics, 7 March 2000, theguardian.com), compiled by Global Women’s Strike campaign, ‘….. unwaged work contributes as much as £ 739 bn to the British economy (Office of National Statistics (ONS), October, 1997). Two thirds of women working out of the home full time do most of the housework. (Red Magazine , Jan 2000) . Women in waged work with young children do 46 hours a week of housework ( childcare, cooking, laundry, shopping, gardening, etc ) compared to 25 hours by men(Omnibus Survey ,ONS, 1995). Worldwide, women spend an average of 4.5 hours on unpaid work including grocery, shopping, etc. That is more than double the time men spend according to O. E. C. D data ( How Society Pays when Women’s Work is Unpaid, by Claire Cain Miller, Feb. 22, 2016, nytimes.com). Relative to women, men spend the most time doing chores in the Scandinavian countries , and the least time in India , Mexico, Turkey and Japan….. In India, women spend six hours and men spend less than an hour. Even in United States, women spend about four hours a day on unpaid work, compared with 2.5 hours for men.

Unpaid GDP

According to Shahra Razavi, chief of the research and data section at UN women, there is a reason this kind of ‘ unpaid work’ is not calculated in GDP – because society still sees ‘ women’s work’ as less valuable. ‘If women stopped doing lot of the work they do unpaid, then the whole economy would collaose’ , she says.(The unpaid work that always falls to women, by Julia Carpenter, February 21, 2018, money.cnn.com). Many technological appliances like dishwashers, laundry machines, etc are accessible to rich women only.

Recognizing the value

Thus, the estimation of economic growth may not reflect the hard domestic labour behind statistical figures. In India, according to Census of 2011, people engaged in house hold duties were considered as ‘ non-workers even when 159.9 million women stated that ‘ household work’ was their main occupation.(Unpaid Work: Women and the burden of unpaid labour, by Vineet John Samuel, last updated 8 March 2019, downtoearth.org.in). In a report , International Monetary Fund suggested that if women’s participation was raised to that of men, then India would grow its GDP by 27 per cent. While the global un paid labour hovers around 13 percent , its value in India is almost 40% of its current GDP.

Hence, the value is very significant and also crucial for over all development of a country. This should be kept in view while computing growth figures. A form of measurement of domestic work must be developed so that such important wing of socio- economic sector gains prominence. The welfare of a family, a society, state, country or the world at large finally depends on basic domestic chores management.

Men should participate more and more in domestic work to relieve women from stress specially women doing paid job work are also burdened with ‘ unpaid’ domestic work thereby causing health hazards. When the time spent by women shrinks to three hours a day,from five hours, their labor force parti- cipation increases by 20 per cent according to O. E. C. D ( nytimes.com). Hence, there should be a balanced approach and women should not be burdened or over burdened with unpaid domestic work.

Sheshu Babu is a political commentator


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