Women shouldering ‘cost and burden’

Indian women like Ozre do the most unpaid care and domestic work of any country globally, except Kazakhstan – a country with 94% lower gross domestic product than India ($163 billion versus India’s $2.6 trillion). It reveals that India is not investing enough in social care and “leaving its female population to carry the burden”, said Diya Dutta, a researcher at Oxfam India and author of a forthcoming Oxfam report, Mind the Gap, to be released on March 28, 2019.

This is the first in a five-part series on how structural inequalities, especially gender disparities, affect lives and society, based on our reporting and Oxfam India’s second India Inequality Report, Mind the Gap.

The burden of unpaid work falls disproportionately on women in India because tasks such as cooking, cleaning, fetching water and firewood are highly gendered, and patriarchal norms dictate that women also perform care work, validate men’s failure to assume domestic responsibilities and thus entrench women’s unequal social status, the report says.

Women in India currently spend upto 352 minutes per day on domestic work, 577% more than men (52 minutes) and at least 40% more than women in South Africa and China (the other two BRICS countries for which data are available), according to Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data.

No way out

Up at 5 am, a couple of hours before her husband and three children surface, Ozre’s daily routine features the repeated drudgery that many women in rural India have to contend with due to the lack of basic infrastructure.

Lugging metal pitchers to the village hand-pump, she spends an hour collecting water each morning, only to return later in the day, spending a total of three hours on this one task. It is her least favourite job. “Although I don’t like it, I have to do it,” she said. “The kids need to be bathed. It’s not like we can go without water.”

In July and August, when the monsoon arrives and the arid landscape dotted with bristling cacti transforms into a green, fertile plain, Damsari will also take up planting work in the neighbouring rice fields. It is tiring work, she said, “the kind that makes my hips and legs ache from all the standing and crouching”. But the additional income cannot be foregone.

Her duties at the ASHA centre continue, as do the chores waiting for her on her return from the fields. It is the number of hours in the day which must be flexible, stretched to accommodate as much as possible.