Recognise Women’s Domestic Labour

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For centuries, the narrative concerning women seems to have remained unchanged. There is no denying that our society is patriarchal and mostly in the rural setting, women are forced to be within the four walls of their homes. Their primary role lies in taking care of the family and carrying out household chores. It is considered that these tasks are specifically ‘women’s jobs’. Therefore, they are found performing domestic chores, which unlike office tasks have no limit. 

In its historic verdict, the Madras High Court in India has come to recognise the value of labour performed by women in the household, challenging the traditional thinking. The court has expanded the rights of homemakers over their husbands’ property. 

While the implementation of the verdict is limited to the state of Tamil Nadu and is not applicable for other Indian states, it can still be regarded as a significant step in the field of women’s rights. According to a news report covered by the BBC, the court case is about a Tamilian couple who had got married back in 1962. Later, for work purposes, the husband left for Saudi Arabia while the wife remained in India, looking after the household and their three children. The woman had no income of her own. But she utilised her husband’s income for purchasing several assets, including jewellery and real estates, in her name.

Upon his return, the husband accused his wife of claiming her rights over all of their property. He filed a case demanding control over all the five assets, including his gift to her. His point was that the assets had been bought with his incomes and that the woman was just a trustee to the property. As the man died in 2007, his children took up the claim. In its recent judgment, the court of law has clarified those claims. It recognised that both the husband and the wife had made their fair share of contribution to the household. As the man was working and earning, the woman was serving and looking after the children. So, in regard to the property owned, both are entitled to have their equal share over the total assets. 

The court verdict basically highlighted that the woman’s domestic labour had allowed the man to remain employed and that she was creating a comfortable environment for everyone in the household. The verdict opens up a new avenue. It is well-known that household chores performed by women have no formal recognition even in Nepal. Their work is not included in the gross domestic product (GDP). In 2018, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) presented a report on care work and care jobs which demonstrated that women perform 76 per cent of total hours of unpaid work. The figure stands at 80 per cent in the Asia and Pacific region. This sort of figure can be transformed with the necessary efforts put up by governments and other stakeholders. 

The court’s verdict can be an important learning for most countries. It can help initiate meaningful discussions and policy reforms, bringing about crucial social changes and fostering an environment that values and recognises women’s domestic contributions. It is crucial even for us to realise that we still lag behind when it comes to advocating for formally recognising women’s domestic labour. The predominant social norms that household chores are solely the responsibility of women and girls have to be challenged. And valuing women for their contribution should be the key focus to end the gender-based disparities prevalent even in our society. 

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Bini Dahal
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