Resolution on Women’s Movement : Challenges and Tasks

utensils, looking after children, fetching water, collecting firewood” to be unproductive “non-workers”. At the same time, terming women’s labour inside the home to be their ‘primary’ function in society is often an excuse to pay women less at the workplace, on the pretext that their work is merely ‘supplementary’ to the income earned by men. Neoliberal policies and the resulting withdrawal of the State from social responsibilities, such as the provision of education, healthcare and sanitation has increased women’s burden of unpaid work in households and communities.

24. In the wake of Supreme Court’s criticism over classification of housework as non-work, the Ministry of Women and Child Development has proposed an honorarium to be paid by husbands to housewives, based on government’s calculations of the economic value of housework. This proposal is highly misplaced and flawed. The fact is that women’s unpaid work in the home subsidises capitalism by helping to depress the wages of workers. There is no point in payment by husbands for housework, because such payment does not add to the overall income of the household. Moreover, there is the danger that such ‘payment’ by the husband would in fact legitimise the sexual division of labour and absolve the husband of the obligation to share household work. It could also legitimise unequal control over finances within the household, by negating the right of women to have an equal control over household finances as a whole and instead implying that women will only have a right over the ‘honorarium.’ The recognition of the social and economic contribution of women’s domestic labour within the household can be meaningful only if it facilitates women’s freedom from the stultifying drudgery of housework. And this can happen only if the State provides free care for children and the elderly; free health care; and other forms of social support such as crèches, community kitchens and laundries, along with secure and dignified jobs for women.

25. There has been much hype about the ‘feminisation of labour’ thanks to globalization. But it is significant that a recent international study ranks India at 131st place among 134 countries, on the question of women’s ‘economic participation and opportunity.’ Only 35% of women in the country above the age of 15 participate in economic activity (i.e either work or seek work), compared to 85% of men. Unemployment rates are very high for women – in some cases, even higher than that for men. For instance, according to the NSSO 61st round, the unemployment rate (of those seeking but not getting work) in 2004-05 in the 20-24 age-group was 12% for rural men and 15% for rural women; while it was 16% for urban men and 27% for urban women.

26. In certain sectors, however, women’s labour is, indeed, preferred – because they are viewed as ‘supplementary’ workers who can be paid less than men, and because of patriarchal ideas which view women as more ‘suited’ to certain kinds of work. Women are therefore, disproportionately represented in the informal sector, in what are called the ‘3D’ (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) jobs. Women are also sometimes preferred because they are perceived as less likely to unionise or engage in struggles, (despite the many examples to the contrary) and more vulnerable to coercion as a result of unequal gender relations. As a result, women are most vulnerable to violations of labour laws and exploitative labour practices. The government must be compelled to set up a committee to make a comprehensive study of the conditions of women workers, especially in the unorganized sector, and implement its recommendations in a time-bound manner.

27. SHGs are peddled as the main vehicles for ‘women’s empowerment’ by the Government. But microfinance institutions (MFIs) too exploit and reinforce patriarchal structures: women are seen as ‘better borrowers’ because they are less mobile and more vulnerable to social ‘shame’. In the name of ‘shaming tactics’ to ensure loan recovery, women are deployed against one another. Far from empowering women, MFIs take advantage of women’s lack of access to