“A wife/mother does not work by the clock. She is in constant attendance of the family throughout the day and night unless she is employed and is required to attend the employer’s work for particular hours. She takes care of all the requirements of husband and children including cooking of food, washing of clothes, etc. She teaches small children and provides invaluable guidance to them for their future life,” said a Bench at the Supreme Court of India, India’s apex court in a landmark judgement.
The judgement also accepted there was discrimination against women in various social legislations and also in judicial pronouncements.
Women have slogged it out at home without any tangible value attached to what they do for time immemorial. That could now change with the Supreme Court observing that the work of women at home mostly goes unrecognised and is never valued, and suggesting the Parliament consider enacting a law to evaluate household work done by home-makers.
The odds are heavily stacked against women in India anyway. It remains a nation of stay-at-home wives, though more women are going out to work. Housewives play a key role in keeping families together in a country with virtually no government-aided social security. A 2008 study showed barely 13% of women – between 18 and 59 years – work. Of this, only 18% of women work in the organised sector, the majority in farms. Just 10% of seats in parliament are held by women. Only 9% of companies have any participation by women in ownership. No wonder India ranked a lowly 116 in the 179-country Gender Development Index in 2006.
Last week, the Supreme Court found that the bias extended to the country’s census. It said that the census appeared to club women who were doing household work, looking after children, fetching water, collecting firewood with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners who are “not engaged in economically productive work”. That’s about 367 million “non-working” women, according to the 2001 census. Analysts say such systemic, institutional gender bias in a mainly patriarchal society will take decades to erode.
Strangely, as we go towards identifying the efforts of the home maker, we fail to realise that most working women in India do also slog as a home maker. So in the end, it is a double shift! The case where working women get support via maids, nannies and other paid-support is minimal. Men at times question about how maids/nannies can instill proper morals in children when women prefer to go out on work. But while saying this, they still are unwilling to accept women’s contribution at home.