Wages for housewives: Indian political party’s manifesto pledge stirs debate

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A political party’s pledge to pay housewives a monthly wage in recognition of their toil has sparked debate in India, with some critics saying the proposal might end up confining even more women to domestic chores.

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Makkal Needhi Maiam (People’s Justice Centre), a regional party founded by actor Kamal Haasan in southern Tamil Nadu state in 2018, made the pledge as it campaigns for a state election due in May.

“Paying housewives for doing their job is an idea whose time has truly come and we shall ensure it,” Haasan said in the party’s election manifesto, without specifying how much homemakers would be paid or how the initiative would be funded.

While the details of the plan are still being worked out, the head of the party’s women and child welfare unit, Mookambika Rathinam, said there was “growing support for this idea.”

“Dr Haasan grew up surrounded by women in his home and he often gives the example of his elder sister, who despite being highly qualified chose to take care of her family. It’s a lot of work that needs to be recognized as work,” Rathinam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

Besides cooking, cleaning and caring for children and elderly family members, Indian women also perform unpaid work in family businesses and low-paid labor in the informal sector, women’s rights campaigners say.

“For decades we have been pointing out that housework by homemakers has to be recognized and quantified as work,” said U Vasuki, national vice president of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA).

“So the idea is welcome as long as the intent is not just political gains in one election,” she added.

However, as the proposal made a stir on social media, some commenters said it might further reduce the number of women seeking formal jobs in a nation with one of the lowest rates of female labor force participation.

“Any woman seeking a career would be now bullied to take government’s money and stay home. Waaaaay to help empowerment,” Twitter user Padma Pillai wrote.

Three-quarters of Indian women are either not working or looking for paid jobs, according to a recent government economic survey. It found 60 percent of women in the “productive age group” of 15 to 59 were engaged in full-time housework.

Others said the party’s promise would be difficult to implement.

“How to ensure they are fairly compensated for the amount of work they do?,” wrote a Twitter user called Ruhee, calling it a “half-baked idea”.

“It can vary depending on household. What stops one from firing house-helps and dump more work on homemakers? Would labor laws apply?...” she added.

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