Gender Equality

CNBC TV 18 Column : Women’s Unpaid Work – Time to Redress it

The economies of the world are built on women’s unpaid work in the household and in the economy . It is time to redress this. I write for CNBC-TV18

Last fortnight, I had the opportunity to visit two villages, in Rajasthan and Maharashtra, where the focus was on women’s livelihood. The one is Rajasthan is piloted by Gramodaya Samajik Sansthan, which works in the area of sustainable development, and one of the projects that they had backed was a small unit that manufactures sanitary pads for the local community. The unit was run as an enterprise. It employed women, who made the pads, and earned from their sale.

The women had a noticeable spring in their step. A confidence brought about by generating economic value. The second project was on the outskirts of Pune, and it is a project in which Google trains women in becoming digitally literate – the Internet Saathi programme.

Part of this is teaching women to use the internet to generate revenue. I saw women source the latest design of saris to procure and sell locally. Women were using Youtube to learn new recipes and produce different types of potato chips. Once again the quiet confidence among the women impacted by economic inclusion, was very visible.

A Vital GDP Booster, Yet …

There are many studies that talk about how the economic inclusion of women would add to the overall GDP of a country. A no-brainer really. If even 50% of the working population of women earned a living wage, India would see double digit GDP growth. If you look at the statistics, India has a lot of catching up to do, as far as participation of women in the formal economy is concerned.  The labour force participation rate (LFPR) is 28.6%, which means that 71.4% of women are not in the formal labour force.

There are three major issues issues associated with getting women into the workplace. One is that in many parts of India, even within states considered progressive, a woman simply does not leave the home to go out to work.

This trend is repeated in countries to the west and east of India.  Many believe that a woman plays a far more important role in running the family and bringing up children. The second is that even when a woman begins her post education life with a job, marriage and children make a job or a career second priority. This is not just the case in India, but in many western economies too. The household comes first. The third is women, who manage to run both a household and their work life – they are likely to get paid less than a man doing a similar role.

The Pay Gap Is Glaring

On an average, an Indian woman in the formal workforce is likely to earn 36% less than a similarly qualified man performing a similar role. Hopefully, these will get fixed over time as more equality legislation steps in. For example, earlier this year Iceland made it illegal for men to be paid more than women for the same work (given similar qualifications, and experience).

However, there is an elephant in the room, and it is a rather large elephant. And that elephant is the value of a woman’s unpaid work in the house or even the family business. On an average, Indian women put in almost 10 times more time on unpaid work than men. For example, what economic value would you place on the woman cooking or cleaning. Or washing clothes, or taking the vegetables to the market to sell? All of these, in most households are unpaid chores.

Those of us privileged enough to outsource these chores know the economic cost of these activities – it is what we pay as wages. But, what does the woman who does this for her own household get for this? And, the larger question is how you unlock the value of this both for the woman at the household level, and for the nation at large.

One is not suggesting a price tag on a mother or a wife’s love. One is suggesting a price tag on the work, and an economic transfer that will move the woman from being an economically dependent entity who earns no money, to an economically empowered individual who does.

Harini Calamur works at the intersection of digital content, technology, and audiences.

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