By Dr Harvinder*
The story of women in India being overburdened with unpaid work is centuries old. The time use survey conducted by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in 2019 confirms a persistent pattern of “time poverty” suffered by women in India. The NSSO survey showed that women spent 84 percent of their working hours on unpaid activities, while men spent 80 percent of their working hours on paid work. In 2019, the time spent by Indian women on unpaid work was 10 ten times more than men. TUS 2019 shows that women's participation in unpaid domestic services for household members – cooking, cleaning, household management – is as high as 81.2 percent each day compared with 26.1 percent for men. It also states that there is a wide gender disparity, with only 18.4 percent women participating in employment activities compared with 57.3 percent men; also, while men spend on an average 459 minutes (7 hours and 39 minutes), women spend only 333 minutes (5 hours and 33 minutes). There is a stark difference in the time spent by men and women in caregiving activities to a dependent child or an adult. While only 14 percent of men participate in unpaid caregiving services for household members spending on average 76 minutes a day (1 hour and 16 minutes), the share of women (2 hours 14 minutes) is almost double at 27.6 percent
Unlike in international TUS in India, the reporting of time spent on various activities was not done separately by each person in the household, but often by a central respondent for all members of the household. It is entirely possible that male respondents overstated their own contributions to domestic chores and understated their wives’ contributions to economically productive work.
The COVID-19 global crisis has exposed the fact that the world’s economies and our daily lives are made possible by the unpaid care work of women, which is often invisible and under-appreciated. Indian women spend the maximum time in childcare among those surveyed from the other nations. Similarly, several estimates reveal that the pandemic has disproportionately increased women’s “time poverty” by up to 30 percent in India.
According to the Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS), 2018-19, women’s participation in employment in India is low and significantly less than that of their male counterparts. Women comprised just 18 percent of the workforce compared to 52 percent of men before the pandemic. A Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) survey revealed that around 39 percent of women lost their jobs during the ongoing pandemic due to several reasons, including an increasing demand for unpaid domestic work put on them by their families. McKinsey reported that women account for 23 percent of the overall job losses recorded after the pandemic hit India.
It is argued that engagement in unpaid domestic and care work is one of the prime reasons for women’s low participation in economic activities. Women do an average of 75 percent of the world’s total unpaid care work. Women’s unpaid domestic work is often invisible but has immense value. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a huge 16.4 billion hours are spent by women on unpaid care work daily. This is equivalent to two billion people working eight hours per day, without payment. The actual value of this work amounts to nine percent of the global GDP, which is equivalent to $11 trillion. Significantly, women’s unpaid work is estimated to be valued at almost 40 percent of India’s GDP.
Similar differences also exist in women’s time allocation to paid and unpaid work by geography. In rural areas, Indian women spend more time in unpaid activities and in comparison, to urban areas. Women are more likely to spend less time in unpaid work and men are less likely to contribute to housework in northern states over southern states. Haryana is the most unequal among the Indian states with men aged between 15-59 spending just 15 minutes on unpaid housework every day while women of the same age do 269 minutes of unpaid housework. Social norms expect women to perform unpaid labour in India and the consequences for straying from the norm can be harsh. OXFAM India’s 2019 household care survey found that one in three survey respondents thought that it was acceptable to beat a woman for failing to care well for the children or not attending to a dependent or ill adult member in the household. For failing to prepare a meal for the men in the family, 68 percent of survey respondents thought that women should be harshly criticized and 41.2 percent thought that they should be beaten. About 66 percent of the working women surveyed in Delhi by the Institute of Social Studies Trust (ISST) reported an increase in household chores and 36 percent stated an increased burden of child and elderly care work during the pandemic.
Billions of dollars are spent each year to alleviate material poverty, while time poverty is often ignored. In this Perspective, we discuss the societal, organizational, institutional, and psychological factors that explain why time poverty is often underappreciated. We argue that scientists, policymakers, and organizational leaders should devote more attention and resources toward understanding and reducing time poverty to promote psychological and economic well-being. Therefore, the strong message emerging is that policymakers and employers need to act fast to reduce “time poverty” among women and push for greater gender equality in the labour market and an urgent need for gender budgeting.
*Dr.Harvinder Asst Prof, Economics
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