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The average Indian housewife (homemaker, for the politically correct) might just have something impressive to embellish her CV with — a fancy designation like Chief Household Officer, the organisation in question being her very home and the boss being her own husband. Wonder of wonders. And if this miracle proposal by Women and Child Development (WCD) ministry is passed by the government, it’s going to open a Pandora’s Box teeming with sticky questions.
To start with, the basic logic behind this move is flawed. It assumes that the man earns solely for himself. And that any money he “gives” his wife for grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, supervising the paid help, looking after their kids, etc. is a favour. Far from “empowering” her, this attitude will only be enforced by making a woman feel like an employee within the four walls of her existence, who must report to her paymaster life partner. “Whenever we ask housewives what they do, most of them say they do nothing. We feel that a mechanism can be devised to quantify and calculate the value of work that they do for their families. It will give a more socially empowered identity to these women,” WCD minister Krishna Tirath told a news agency. Well, aren’t there other, less-complicated ways to convince these women (who obviously suffer from low self-esteem) that they don’t do “nothing”?
First things first, how much will she be paid? Tirath conveniently suggests that a “portion” of the husband’s income be allotted to his wife as salary. Who decides the exact amount? The “boss”, obviously? Or does the lucky employee get to bargain? And when she does begin work, what if she falls ill? Would she be entitled to sick leave? Casual leave if she wants to feign illness and shirk work? In that case, will the husband come zipping home from work, roll up his shirtsleeves and jump headlong into a pile of chores? Would she have to submit a letter in writing before taking off to her maternal home? And would all of this be paid leave? Will she get a travel allowance for commuting to the local supermarket? Will she be entitled to dearness allowance (I’m not talking about the amorous kind here), gratuity and pension? Will she get an annual appraisal for exemplary performance? Bonus during the festive season?
How does all of this not make her anything but a glorified servant?
And these are only some the questions that naturally arise in the classic man-as-bread-earner-woman-as-homemaker situation that’s quite common in India. Now, let’s look at situations where the dynamics are a little more complex. What about women who hold professional jobs and still do household chores? Won’t these superwomen who juggle it all be paid more than the market rate earned by their homemaker counterparts? What if she’s a freelancer who essentially works out of home? Oh, and what if the man loses his job, decides to take a sabbatical or is one of those rare stay-at-home husbands? Will she pay him a pity pittance out of her own “salary”, earned from him or otherwise?
Tirath is also concerned about unaccounted economic activity. “Working in homes is economic activity and if this is recognised, it will give us a truer reflection of what the GDP of our country is. It will also help us know more accurate figures of the rate of real unemployment in the country.” Now, I’m no expert in economics, but aren’t there less-demeaning, less-intrusive and less-schoolmarmish ways to figure that out?