It is a terrible time to state this at the beginning of the New Year, but statistically men are more likely to die before their wives.
Globally, it has been found that women outlive men by an average of four years. Which means eventually you end up being the sole provider and caretaker of a home.
Now, if you have not generated your own income because you were taking care of the home and the myriad responsibilities that come with it, you are in serious trouble.
And this pressure isn’t only in the case of the death of the husband: for example, in the hill state of Uttarakhand, because of lack of opportunity and migration, women are left caring for home as well as tending to patches of land. Life is very hard for women.
Take a look at widow villages (they do exist) or the condition of the widows of Vrindavan, after the death of their spouse, they are abandoned without any means to look after their needs.
Their most productive years have been spent in caring for the family and having no source of income to see them through their years. There is an urgent need to address this issue and secure a safe future for women who find themselves in these circumstances.
This debate triggered in India today is a vital one and its time has come. It is something that progressive nations around the world are talking about.
In fact, some have even objected to the term ‘housewife’, believing -- and rightly so -- that the word wife signals an entitlement that it is her duty as ordained by society and religion to labour for her family, and see the reward in the labour alone.
Hence, in Ghana, for example, the word ‘home executive’ is used. As gender dynamics change, especially in western countries and even in some cases in urban India, and as women achieve greater levels of education, they are the primary breadwinners in their families and husbands take over the home.
Hence the term 'homemaker’ seems increasingly more appropriate and non-gendered. It is this recognition of the home maker’s contribution to the family, the economy and the nation that needs to be quantified.
In Indian homes the ‘housewife’ plays multiple roles as it is not unusual for three generations of the family to live in one house: the parents, the couple and the children. Hence, the wife’s role becomes that of daughter-in-law, wife and mother, each bringing forward its own complexity and demands.
If for aging parents she has to be a caretaker or nurse, if anyone is ailing, the household saves on sending their parents to an old age home or hiring a nurse. The labour that the wife puts in is una-ccounted for but spares an expense.
The same is the case with caring for children and not, for example, sending them to a creche and paying again. These are but two examples: the larger point is that women perform tasks in the role of homemaker that are roles for which they would be paid if it was being performed for an outsider and not for the family.
Another trend on the rise is that even though women are more educated today, between 2004-05 and 2017-18, the women’s workforce participation has dropped from 42.7 percent to 23.2 percent. This is alarming and a primary reason has been the fact that household ‘duties’ claim women from the workforce.
We can quantify the lost wages, but what of the loss of aspirations, hopes, self determination and financial independence? We cannot think of women advancing in equal terms as long as we keep them financially dependent on men.
And this is problematic for a society as a whole.
If we can guarantee minimum wages for other professions why can’t we think of a universal basic caretakers income for home makers? It’s only fair.
If the government can have a Kisan Yojana Scheme, then why not have a Grahini Yojana Scheme as well? We have all too often heard of how the family is the building block of society and the nation: well, the woman of the house is the manager of that family, and her labour and expertise should be recognised and compensated.
Advaita Kala is an author, screenwriter and a columnist. The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.