When will women really be treated equally?

By: Manasa Raghavendra

The history of International Women’s Day

On March 9, 1911, International Women’s Day was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark and Germany and Switzerland. New York city witnessed a huge number of women marching through the streets demanding for shorter hours, better pay and voting rights in 1908. On February 28, 1909, the Socialist Party of America observed the first National Women’s Day across the United States.  They continued to celebrate it on the last Sunday of February until 1913.

Clara Zetkin, who led the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany during the second International Conference of Working Women proposed the idea of an International Women’s Day and the rest is history.

When will women be treated equally in India?

Indian government is mulling a proposal to make it mandatory for men to share a certain percentage of their income with their wives, if the latter is staying at home to do household chores.

India’s Minister for Women and Child Development Krishna Tirath when proposed this bill probably had the best intentions in mind.

An article in a popular online newspaper questioned how one could put a price tag on household work. “Does she get paid extra for cooking up an elaborate birthday dinner, as opposed to dishing up the usual dal chawal?”

There is no amount of money that can compensate for her work. Women’s low socio-economic status is related directly to society’s lack of acknowledgment of domestic work. Housework has traditionally been treated as a woman’s responsibility in India. Marriages have been viewed as “equal economic partnership” by the judges.

There is an existing wage gap between men and women who do the same professional jobs. There are a lot of questions about how this can be achieved.

Should the money for the wages come from cash transfers, state subsidies or a universal basic income? Should family laws be changed to recognise women’s unpaid work? Should men performing housework also be remunerated? Should transgender women be included in these payment schemes? What could be the unintended consequences of salaries for housewives? How would this work in families with same-sex couples?

This concept is highly debatable. The laws are on the street and not inside one’s home where nobody should meddle except the people living there. The sanctity of being a feminine presence in a family will be reduced to a mere paid-for maid. But can a mere salary elevate the role of housewife and make it more worthy of social recognition?

The salary for housewives proposal takes the “male breadwinner” heteronormative family structure and solidifies a typical picture of early 20th century family.

The fantasy of socialising domestic work has not even been materialised in socialist countries. Since it is all about valuing women’s work in India, a good starting point would be to openly appreciate their contribution and stop thinking of domestic chores as women’s work. The government can do better by enforcing strict laws against rape and domestic violence and ensure that there is a total female literacy across the country.

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