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The Economics of Unpaid Care and Domestic Work

The discussion surrounding unpaid care and domestic labour started not long ago. The topic and its impact on the economy and society has been in the limelight a few times, especially during the elections.

As quoted by OECD Development Centre in their study about unpaid care work, “it refers to all unpaid services provided within a household for its members, including care of persons, housework and voluntary community work.” It can be interpreted apropos to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 5 and 10 as women are the most affected by this and it has led to an unequal distribution of resources, particularly time.

In a developing country like India, which slipped from 112th position to 140th position in the WEF Gender Gap Report 2021, it is obvious that the burden of care and domestic responsibilities fall on women. Reports show that women in India spend 299 minutes per day on domestic work and 20.7% of them contribute to the labour force. So irrespective of the work they do, women are impelled to devote their energy and time to care for their family while men only spent one-third of it. Women succumb to this because of the narrow upbringing, societal expectations and emotional manipulation, which has led to its normalization.

The mental stress and physical strain of multitasking and overworking causes health problems and creates familial issues which will end up either in resignation from work or termination of relationships, which is still frowned upon. In the case of non-working women, the lack of acknowledgement and financial independence paves the way to a different set of issues. Thus, the practice causes a reduction in the workforce and eliminates the opportunity for third parties, affecting the country’s GDP (“unpaid care work constitutes about 35% of India’s GDP”).

This also makes gender equality a far cry which is not surprising for a country that does not mandate paternal leaves and focuses too much on motherhood, as if childrearing is always a female’s duty. The pandemic worsened the situation as women struggle to keep up their work and household chores, compromising their health. A recent image of a woman cooking for her family while on oxygen support caught the eyes of social media which glorified this selfless act of a mother.

How cruel and emotionless it is to think of it as the unconditional love of a mother and not as despondence and helplessness of a woman? Yes, it should be admitted that uncompensated domestic work and care is taken advantage of and dishonored. Even though many promises like pension for housewives, financial support for women head of the family etc. were publicized in many states during elections, it is dismaying that none has yet been implemented or even passed.


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