One extremely significant dimension that has gone largely ignored in the purview of the measurement of economic activity – is household unpaid work by women. This is the flip side of women’s low labour force participation, which is among the lowest in the world in India. Women who are not in the workforce are not sitting at home enjoying leisure time – they’re engaged in child and parent care, cooking, cleaning and performing other household chores. The fact that women’s household work is unpaid and therefore goes unrecorded as part of the GDP understates women’s contribution to the economy.
According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, women in India spend an average of almost six hours a day doing household work, at least 40% more than women in China or South Africa and almost six times as much as Indian men. Hence, in most developing nations, women’s massive contribution to various housework-based work goes unrecognised in real economic terms.
While reading up about the concept of the invisible and unpaid work of women, the only story I could relate to is that of my mother, the strongest woman I have ever known.
Ever since my senses can recall, I remember mom getting up in the morning before anyone else. She started her daily chores from right in the morning and continued till night. From cooking, cleaning to so many other kinds of housework. During the early years of her marriage, she used to do all the chores of a joint family, take care of ailing in-laws and bring up two children. It is unimaginable to me as to how hard a person can work without taking leaves or breaks/holidays.
Not taking into account women’s invisible work participation not only affects the economy but also the social status of women.
If the economy does not take into account such work, it is highly underestimating the economic activity of the nation and women’s participation in the workforce. In the case of working women, what comes into play is the concept of ‘double burden’. Despite the payable work outside, the woman still needs to do most of the housework.
Not taking into account women’s invisible work participation not only affects the economy but also the social status of women. In a still heavily patriarchal society, publicly acknowledging, through official statistics, women’s vital economic importance can play a role in empowering women and increasing their sense of self-worth, particularly among underprivileged and economically vulnerable communities; in which the vast bulk of the household work is performed by women.
As a matter of public policy, schemes targeted at economically vulnerable households can and should be fine-tuned by recording the value of women’s work. Finally, as a matter of macroeconomics, capturing women’s unpaid labour would give a truer picture of GDP and, therefore, a more realistic assessment of the size of the economy and of economic growth.
It’s both good economics, good public policy and basic ethics to correctly measure women’s contribution to the economy.