“In the morning, I swept the doorway, then I swept the whole house, washed the dishes, mopped the place, and then I bathed. After that, I made chai nashta. After making chai-nashta, I cleaned up, and then took care of the animals. After tending to the animals, I went to the haat. I spent my afternoon at the haat, till about 12-1 pm, after which I came home. At home I had a bath, then cooked, fed my children, then ate myself, then made sure the rest of the household ate, then washed the vessels again, then I picked up my tools and went to the fields to cut grass. I returned home, to do the evening’s dusting and mopping, then washed the vessels the children had used, washed their clothes, washed up again, and then slept,” Anita recounts.
Simply listening to her daily schedule has tired us out. One can only imagine the amount of unpaid, unrewarded, back-breaking labour that Anita and thousands of other women like her put in every day to keep their houses running during the nationwide coronavirus lockdown. While the coronavirus has halted or impeded work for everyone else – for women managing their households, it seems to be business as usual. We spoke to the women of Banda to get a window into their lives.
Reshma, a young woman from Chatarpur states, “My husband used to be a welder but is unable to work during the lockdown. Now he sits idle at home and just demands food and snacks all day. I have little children, I’m working all day to take care of them, where am I supposed to get all this food from when we have no income? “Kaam-dhandha nahi hai, so he’s just troubling me a lot.” The women of Banda must sprout 10 more hands in order to keep up with the domestic demands of the lockdown. As Zareena Khatun puts it, “Kuch bhi toh madad nahin (there is no help at all).”
The coronavirus lockdown has only exacerbated pre-existing conditions of labour inequality. Historically, the burden of domestic labour and caregiving falls disproportionately on women. This labour is unpaid and done out of a sense of duty or love, and therefore, does not factor into national economic calculations such as the GDP. Fun fact: If counted, unpaid care work by women would account for more than 40% of India’s current GDP, compared to 13% of global GDP.
Ironically, however, women’s labour is what makes possible the conditions that allow other people to enter the workforce; after all, one can only go to work if the kids are fed and taken care of, food is cooked, and the house is in order. In India, for instance, women perform 10 to 12 times more unpaid labour than men, often at the cost of their own economic opportunities or dreams. According to a 2015 survey by the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, the average Indian woman does 352 minutes of unpaid work every day, compared to 52 minutes by men.
In India, for instance, women perform 10 to 12 times more unpaid labour than men, often at the cost of their own economic opportunities or dreams.
While domestic labour predominantly occupies women, it is a little known fact that anywhere from 50 to 85% of India’s agricultural labour force comprises women. These women are often not compensated for their role as agricultural labourers. The current lockdown has done nothing to alleviate the intense workload of women. In fact, with more people home than ever, women must work overtime (yes, pun intended) to satisfy the demands of their families.
Even in urban areas, women are disproportionately shouldering the burden of housework and caregiving, very often alongside their regular jobs. Since the lockdown has kept ‘domestic help’ or hired household ‘maids’ at home too – upper class, upper caste women have to run their households by themselves, without the aid of the domestic army that is common in India. It is worth highlighting that it is this labour by other women that permits some women to work and follow their dreams.
The men of Banda that we interviewed are playing PUBG, hanging out in public, watching the news and movies, keeping themselves busy with khatiya todna (meaning: sitting around and doing nothing) and ‘timepass’- those ubiquitous Indian hobbies. Nanhe Ram says, “We’re just eating, sleeping, and lazing around at home.” Saker Khan, a much younger man, concurs, “In my free time, I just join PUBG, what else is there to do? Din bhar sote hai, khaat todte hai.” One man even complained, “ghar baithe baithe bore ho rahe hain.” Boredom, however, is a luxury not afforded to the women in their life.
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