More work but not enough wages for women in India

A file photo of a woman working under the MNREGA scheme in Karnataka

According to a study, women spend two to ten times more time on unpaid work

International popstar Beyonce, in 2011, may have crooned “Who run the world? Girls!”, but the universal truth is not so simple. It has come to light that more women engage in unpaid work compared to men and they spend two to ten times more time on unpaid work.

According to a recently released Action Aid report in collaboration with UN women, Invisible Work, Invisible Workers - The Sub-Economies of Unpaid Work and Paid Work, it has emerged that not only do more women engage in unpaid work compared to men, this is in addition to their paid activities; this creates a burden for them with implications on various facets of their life cycle – on their health, on their ability to acquire education, skills, a paid job and an independent income as well as a voice and social status.

The study has emerged from research across rural and urban contexts on the issue of women’s unpaid labour in four districts of three states of India – Maharashtra, Telangana and Uttarakhand. It comprises of a survey of more than 1,560 households.

“The continuum of paid work and unpaid work calls for the need to add a fourth “R” of re-define to the existing three Rs of recognise, redistribute and reduce connected with women’s unpaid work,” said Prof Ritu Dewan of Centre for Development Research, who led the research.

“Most women we spoke to said they simply wanted a little more time to sleep,” added Dewan. The burden of unpaid work is also intensified by the lack of adequate public provisioning in critical sectors such as energy, health, water and sanitation, food security and livelihoods.

“We have found that women engage in more activities at a time. We are not talking of multi-tasking; it is about the multiplicity and simultaneity of issues. We call it the ‘time distribution method’; women take the animals to graze, at the same time, cut grass, feed the children and also look after the animals,” elaborates Dewan.

This translates into the intensity of work increasing for women, points out Dewan. “It is not than men don’t take care of children or gather firewood or even bring water, but women end up having to handle a major share of responsibility,” points out Dewan.

“By and large women’s work is characterised by informality, invisibility, vulnerability and drudgery. Even when they are remunerated, the work conditions and their wages remain grossly exploitative and in contravention of international and national labour standards,” said Sandeep Chachra, Executive Director, Action Aid.

What adds to the burden is that the marginalization of women is further exacerbated due to their socioeconomic position in society. “Moreover, entering the labor market does not mean that women abandon their unpaid and care work. Instead, the expectation is that they will continue with multiple activities,” said Dewan.

“It is not just unpaid labour, but women are also paid lesser than men even if they are enrolled under the MNREGA scheme,” added Dewan.

The burden of unpaid work is also intensified by the lack of adequate public provisioning in critical sectors such as energy, health, water and sanitation, food security and livelihoods. Intensifying women’s burden and increasing it manifold is the huge vacuum created by macroeconomic policies and strategies that do not take cognizance of its existence.

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