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May 11, 2019 Saturday 08:46:18 PM IST

Is Exclusion of Housewife’s Value Creation from GDP Discriminatory?

Guest Column,Reflections

A Whatsapp status seen on May Day was 'Happy Labours Day to all housewives who work unpaid throughout their lives.'

It is true that many homemakers (the new term for housewives) toil hard throughout their lives but don't get recognised at all. Now most women have the double responsibility of working or doing business as well attending to children and household chores. In economic terms, what is done in the house is not considered for calculation in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Even if you engage in gardening activity, cleaning your car or painting your house, it is considered leisure activity and not counted at all. The contribution of a housemaid is calculated in GDP but not the contribution of a homemaker. There is a joke, if a man marries his maid it will lower the national income!

In economic terms, if an activity or product  goes through the market place and sold, it become part of the economic production, otherwise not. But there are some exceptions to this rule. A farmer who consumes the produce in his farm gets accounted, so is the case with the owner-occupied home. It is treated as land-lord renting to himself. This is because so much materials, architectural and civil engineering expertise, labour and money is involved in the construction of a house.

Is Exclusion of Homemaker's Value Creation discriminatory?

In this age, when gender justice and equality are much talked about, is it discriminatory that a homemaker's contribution is not included in the GDP calculation at all? Apart from economic reasons cited above, there may be historic or evolutionary reasons behind this practice. In the post wanderer stage of mankind, the husband continued to go out for work or food while looking after the house, children and may be domesticated animals was the forte of the wife. This continued for a long, long time. Even in affluent families, women stayed indoors although they may have maids to assist in cleaning and cooking. Several centuries later, women now have better education and they go for jobs. But the practice of looking after the day-to-day activities in the household are mostly done by the wife.

The fact that women are good at multi-tasking makes it natural for everyone to entrust the household chores to her. I remember in my childhood, one evening I fell down while playing with my brother, I suffered a hit on my head and bleeding started. Since the maid had left for some reason, my grandmother who was quite old was staying with us to look after both of us while my father and mother went to office. My granny was quite helpless and knew something bad had happened.  My mother was horrified to see the bleeding once she returned from office and there was no Uber or Auto-rickshaws those days. No telephone or mobile to call someone. She walked fast to the taxi stand nearby and got a taxi to take me to near by hospital where five or six stitches were given without anesthesia while I was crying at the top of my voice. After all this ordeal, when we went back home, she had to clean the blood stains all over the place, cook the supper and also attend to other household chores. I am sure my dad would have been terrified if he was the first person to see me putting my hands on the head and running around as the bleeding was never stopping.

At the time of my marriage, my wife Aswathy was studying for Pharmacy and it was a miracle how she quickly did kitchen work in the early morning and went for studies. Very soon our son Darshan was born but sadly with a congenital heart problem known as Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) or in layman’s language, a hole in the heart. This caused frequent respiratory infections and ailments requiring regular hospital visits and admission almost every month. She decided not to take up any job till the son’s problem was solved with surgery at the age of 5. Then she started a retail pharmacy business, ran it for five years and then the second child Diyah arrived. A caregiver was there for a year but when she left, Aswathy’s parents took her to their home and we used to see her mostly in the weekends. This caused separation anxiety for Diyah and following my transfer to a new place, the retail pharmacy business was sold out so mom and Diyah could spend time together till her KG admission. This gave her time to start a new career as a dance-fitness trainer and again the multi-tasking abilities help her manage the house well apart looking after pets, attending to terrace garden, going for swimming, gym workout, even in the absence of a full time maid-servant.

I am sure many of us will have stories or anecdotes about how our moms struggled and used presence of mind to save us even in many emergency or life threatening situations. And most often they are also forced to take up career sacrifices than men.

Getting the Family Involved

Coming back to the Whatsapp message and the issue of discrimination -if the husband is forced to employ a maid, the total expenses of the household shoots up, which in turn affects the quality of living of the entire family. But to address the discriminatory argument, I could think of only two methods. One is for the husband to put a certain amount of money to the be deposited in the name of the wife whose proceeds after 20 or 25 years (that is the time when children can be assumed to be earning and going independent) will be credited to the wife's account. This will be sufficient to take care of her expenses or live the way she wants as she becomes a senior citizen. The proportion of money deposited every month should be based on annual income calculation of the household. The other option is to involve all the family members in the household chores, including preparation of food, washing of clothes, cleaning of rooms and surroundings which eases the burden of the mother.

The Case of the Unpaid Nannies and Grandpa's

A retired bank employee told me the other day that he was finding it difficult to get into terms with retirement as he couldn’t engage in some productive or creative activity. However, he was busy throughout the day attending to his granddaughters, baby sitting or taking one of them to school and pick her up after the classes. Moms turn grand moms and end up changing the diapers, bathing and looking after the grand children without getting paid-unpaid nannies as they are often referred to. There is both economics and safety/security involved in entrusting children in the care of grandma’s and grandpas.  

Those living abroad know how costly it is to hire a care-giver and maid. There is also the risk involved in entrusting a baby to a stranger. However, all this is not applicable if their own parents are entrusted with the job. All it takes is to get a visa for both parents and they end up looking after their grand children in foreign lands or may be outside their home state.

There is a popular song in Malayalam sung by K P Udayabhanu which may be translated like this-

“Is a girl born to shed tears every day from birth till the grave?

Yet many parents are keen to marry of their daughters just after studies when they could as well think of a job or business to become financially independent rather than end up preparing food, serving food and attending to all household chores till she reaches the grave. Even the courses selected for them are done in such a way that it appeals to the marriage market rather than the tastes or attitude of the child. Societal attitudes need to change with the times if we are to call us progressive and again back to the Whatsapp status I saw on May Day, I fully appreciate the spirit of it and despite the economic reasons keeping it away from GDP or accounting books, no doubt the invaluable contribution of women to sustenance and progress of mankind should be acknowledged.


Sreekumar Raghavan

Sreekumar Raghavan is an award-winning business journalist with over two and a half decades of experience in print, magazine and online journalism. A Google-certified Digital Marketing Professional, he specialises in content development for web, digital marketing and training, media relations and related areas. He is the recipient of MP Narayana Pillai Award for Journalism in 2001 and holds a bachelors degree in Economics and Masters Degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Kerala University.





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