Why is the work of a housewife still unrecognised by economy when it can increase the GDP upto 50 percent?

After the absolving of slavery and serfdom, the work of an housewife is considered to be the only unpaid labor in economy. Major economists have considered it a fallacy that is continuing for centuries because of the stringent hold of patriarchal system all over the world. Economists have long argued that, by excluding unpaid work and other important items not measured by GDP (such as the value of a clean environment), official statistics are potentially misleading and skew our understanding of the true contribution of different sectors of the economy. Research by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis finds that if the value of household production was included in estimating GDP, it would have added $3.8 trillion to the U.S. economy in 2010, lifting it by nearly 26%.

It’s not just feminists or left-wing economists making this case, but also mainstream economists such as Gary Becker of the University of Chicago, Amartya Sen of Harvard University and Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University, all of whom are Nobel laureates. I would like to quote from an essay by Cindy L’Hirondelle called Housework Under Capitalism: The Unpaid Labor of Mothers, “I’ve worked laying sod, painting cars, selling donuts, and flipping burgers. I have also lived and felt the invisibility of being “only a mom.” Nothing compares with the stress of looking after small children, cooking for them and cleaning up after them. Housework gets no recognition, no status, and is the most wearing job I have ever done. But the subject of household labor is seen as dull, and gets ignored even by progressive groups.

Paid work gets recognition; it is “real” work. Yet the most common, exhausting, and tedious work is done for free and is invisible to those who fight against capitalism for social justice.

Unpaid labour is a taboo subject because acknowledging it would undermine one of the most important ideological foundations of capitalism. The owning class does not want to admit that they can only prosper by not paying for seventy-five percent of the true work of the planet.

Even the Marxists fail to identify that Capitalism in its worst form has adversely affected the women from the beginning of time. Louis Althusser in his essay Ideology and ideological state apparatus identified two sources that determine the working of a capitalistic society that are ideological state apparatus such as the religious institutions, school, society, culture, values, belief system and family which impacts the mental development of an individual’s mind making ‘him’ act according to the set ideology thus automatically becoming an asset in the working of capitalism and the other is repressive state apparatus such as the police, court, the government and armed forces that uses repression as a method of continuing the implementation of capitalism by the means of violence and coercive force. Though he fails to notice that the biggest role of these two apparatus is done on the women where the ideological state apparatus also work as repressive state apparatus specially on Indian women where domestic violence is pretty common if seen comprehensively. Thus the housewives are suppressed from all the sides and the ones who are protesting against capitalism are also directly supporting it to get the hardest and most important work done by their wives considering is as the sacred duty of women.

The condition of a housewife is even worse in our country as it is a class, caste and religion based society on top of a strictly patriarchal hold, especially in rural areas which constitute 70% of the country’s population.

The women are supposed to toil endlessly at their home and fields and are not even allowed to step outside their home without permission or a male escort. The ones who fail to acknowledge ‘their’ work do not hold any respect in the community and are sometimes send back to their parents. Most of them still observe purdah as they are supposed to have ‘shame’ for the elders. But the worst part is the way women have accepted this as a cultural norm which is vital if they want to maintain their family and children in a better way. Feminist critiques like Simone De Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Susan Gubar presents how the major reason for this protraction is the implantation of this system in the psyche of a female mind right from childhood and the grass root source being the mother herself. They further argue that a women is nothing but an asset whose value is determined by her qualities, and it is this lack of voice in women against which the men make their identity.

The homemakers are not able to expand their horizon beyond the four walls and the dis heartening part is that they do not even realize that they are suppressed in being. Their name, existence and children belong to their husbands and the fear of going against it is so deeply rooted in their sub-conscious mind that it affects their reasoning, decision making and makes them irritable and more prone to depression as they lose themselves as an individual and the same is inculcated to their children by difference in upbringing of a boy that from a girl.

Virginia Woolf in her book A room of one’s own discusses how financial independence also affects intellectual freedom, she argues that women have been poor for centuries and therefore unable to exercise different professions, as they have been made busy doing household chores and rearing children, though the essay was published in 20th century to explore women as writers and fictional characters but the conditions are still the same especially for women in India both rural and urban. ”All women are oppressed, not all women are equally oppressed ” and this oppression should end, though it is easier said than done but our economy should start recognizing it as an official job. The salary could be fixed according to the husband’s earning and the amount of work done, including some allowances from the government. The Ministry of Women and Child Development in India seems to think so too.

With the rationale of empowering women, the ministry is considering a draft bill  that would try to put an economic value to women’s contribution to the household. Apart from this a time should be fixed wherein the husband also contributes to household chores. One can survive without going to the office for a few days but not without food, clothing and shelter. It is high time that respect and concession should be given to the most vital job of the world, the money can be used to pursue aspirations that were kept aside for homemaking, like education and it can also help them set up small scale business like catering, sewing and stitching etc. Once they get this amount in their pockets it will increase their self confidence, self esteem and would also make their partner view them with equality of status automatically bolstering the condition of women in our society and country.

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Malvika is a Freelance Writer based out of New Delhi and is a graduate from Miranda House, Delhi University in Literature.