It's a start at least. For long, Indian patriarchal set-up has harboured the notion that women 'don't' work.' That's a problematic assumption and the one calling it so is not the drawing conversation of the elite, but the apex court of the nation.
In one of its latest rulings, the SC observed that the notional income of homemakers must be calculated and quantified on the basis of the work they do. Their contribution must value and take into account, "work, labour, sacrifices" they put in.
A three-judge bench comprising Justices N V Ramana, Abdul Nazeer, and Surya Kant delivered the judgement while deciding on a case involving insurance compensation. The SC said the value of a woman's work at home was no less than that of her office going husband and enhanced the compensation to be paid to the relatives of the deceased couple when a car hit their scooter in April 2014 in Delhi.
The bench enhanced the compensation by Rs 11.20 lakh to Rs 33.20 lakh to be paid to the father of the deceased man by the insurance company with 9 per cent annual interest from May 2014.
Women invest their time, energy and emotions
Justice Ramana cited the 2011 Census, as per which nearly 159.85 million women mentioned "household work" as their main occupation. Whereas only 5.79 million men mentioned household work as their main occupation.
He also turned to a recent report of the National Statistical Office, titled Time Use in India-2019, according to which women, on an average, spend nearly 299 minutes a day on unpaid domestic services for household members. This figure was only 97 minutes for men. Similarly, in a day, women spend 134 minutes on unpaid caregiving services for household members as compared to 76 minutes by men.
To further quantify and simplify things, women on an average spend 16.9 per cent and 2.6 per cent of their day on unpaid domestic services and unpaid caregiving services for household members respectively, while the men spend 1.7 per cent and 0.88 per cent, Justice Ramana further noted.
Rightfully said and well put
"The sheer amount of time and effort that is dedicated to household work by individuals who are more likely to be women than men, is not surprising when one considers the plethora of work a homemaker undertakes," wrote Justice Ramana.
"A homemaker often prepares food for the entire family, manages the procurement of groceries and other household shopping needs, cleans and manages the house and its surroundings, undertakes decoration, repairs and maintenance work, looks after the needs of the children and any aged member of the household, manages budgets and so much more," he wrote in the judgement further highlighting the gender inequality. "In rural households they often also assist in sowing, harvesting and transplanting activities in farms, apart from tending cattle," the judge noted.
The issue of fixing notional income for a homemaker, served an extreme function and was a recognition of the multitude of women engaged in this activity, whether by choice or as a result of cultural norms, the SC said.
It signals that the law and courts of the land believe in the value of the labour, services and sacrifices of homemakers. These services contribute in a real way to the economic condition of the family, and the economy of the nation, regardless of the fact that it may have been traditionally excluded from economic analyses.
Is it a good idea?
If only everything could be simply quantified. Putting a price on a woman's household work is one way of recognising the labour, love and sacrifice behind it. But will legal acknowledgment necessarily translate into societal recognition of a woman's economic contribution?
"This is utter disaster, relegating 'women' to be housewives/homemakers, it will work only if the compensation works as a significant choice with other life careers women can have else patriarchy will say "you get paid for it" and the average age of marriages will go down further," wrote a user.
Can we just talk about how running a house is basically a full-time job that we don’t get paid for?— Keya Madhvani Singh (@keyamadhvani) January 6, 2021
There has been vehement disagreement about this from actors like Kangana, who find it as 'seeing business'. While the SC's intent is to formally quantify hosue-work in monetary terms in case of death, Kamal's approach is to do the same while they are alive! pic.twitter.com/zMMQHNg3Qb— Karthik (@beastoftraal) January 6, 2021