It is not your job | Unpaid care work in India

It is not your job | Unpaid care work in India

As per the 1998-99 National Time-Use Survey, weekly average time spent by men and women on total work (both paid and unpaid) in India is 48 hours and 62 hours respectively. Women therefore spend 28% more time on work than men do overall. They spend nine hours per day on work as opposed to 6.8 hours by men. Unpaid care work constitutes for about 35% of India’s GDP and is equivalent to about 182% of the total government tax revenue (ActionAid, 2017). Currently, Indian women’s contribution to the GDP is 17%; this is not only far below the average 37% but is also less than that of China (41%) and sub-Saharan Africa (39%). Globally, women spend three times more time on unpaid care work than men. However, in India it is 9.8 times more (NITI Aayog, 2017).

The problem of unpaid care work exists predominantly because of the many prevalent patriarchal norms in our society. These norms often involve women doing majority of unpaid care work like looking after children and older family members, cooking and cleaning. This undermines their rights and limits their opportunities, capabilities and choices and thus impeding their empowerment. While it is assumed that a major reason why women and girls face the burden of unpaid care work is illiteracy, in urban households that is usually not the case. For both rural and urban areas, the constant ground on which this happens is discrimination and gender inequality.

What to do?

Employment and creation of jobs are crucial steps to fight this inequality. Indian women’s labour force participation is one of the lowest in the world. While inequality in job opportunities continue to increase by the day, inequality in education has decreased. Women tend to drop out of the labour force to indulge in unpaid care work (Diya Dutta, 2019). This problem can be tackled by making formal education accessible to women and through their economic empowerment. Empowerment has multiple meanings that relate to autonomy, choice, capability, freedom, participation, and power. Empowerment is multidimensional and complex and it requires time to change a deeply-rooted gendered political economy that limits women’s agency. Supporting women’s empowerment is a long-term agenda that needs identifying and helping to strengthen locally generated transformative processes.

The solutions can be categorized into three Rs: recognition, reduction, and redistribution. India’s Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act of 2005 was introduced as one of the largest labour interventions in the world. All of the provisions in the act recognize, reduce, and/or redistribute unpaid care work. If women were to spend less time on unpaid care work in India, they would add USD 300 billion to the GDP.

A huge spectrum of women’s skilled but unpaid work contributes directly to the economy. Yet, its devaluation by not being accounted for ‘work’ weakens women’s status, leading to their vulnerability. Sharing the responsibilities of childcare can be difficult in a culture where parental leave is given only to the mother. This further reinforces the notion that unpaid care work is the sole responsibility of the women. The government has a crucial role to play in promoting gender equality by ensuring equality of opportunity in public services. However, these solutions will have a limited impact unless the behavioral change of each and every individual is targeted. Hence, each of us reading this article need to go back home and tell our mothers and grandmothers that it’s NOT your job!

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