In India, Husbands to Pay Wives for Doing Household Chores?

by Aparna Ray

The Union Women and Child Development Ministry in India is considering a draft bill which, if passed by parliament, would make it legally compulsory for husbands to pay out a portion of their monthly income to their homemaker wives, for doing household chores.

As per the Ministry's proposal, a model is being framed which will allow for valuation of the work done by homemakers in economic terms and then recognition of this contribution to the economy by compensating homemakers for their labour.

The proposed law is expected to refer to homemakers as “home engineers“. Minister Krishna Tirath has said that this amount, which could be anywhere between 10-20% of the husband's monthly salary, should not be looked upon as salary for housework; rather it could be referred to as an honorarium or something similar.

While the Minister sees this as a step forward in women's empowerment, the proposal is being debated hotly, both offline as well as online.

Some feel that “measuring the value of unpaid work at home is conceptually correct and well worth trying”, though making it mandatory for husbands to pay out a fixed percentage of their salaries in lieu of this work may be the wrong way forward.

Others wonder how it will be possible to put a ‘price tag' on all the work that goes on within a home and how such a law would be implemented - given the various questions that are sure to come up in it's wake.

And questions are indeed being asked. For example, LordRaj asks:

  • Are you suggesting an Employee / Employer relationship for the married couple?
  • Who is going to decide on the working hours and job description?

In Ground Report, which is an open news platform, D. Chaitanya outlines some further questions related to this issue that people (both men and women) appear to be hotly debating. For example:

  • If in the place of wife, house-maid is discharging every day house-hold work, then how should the house-maid be treated? Should not the house-maid be treated on par with the wife? (In such cases) who are legitimately entitled for that 10 or 20% of amount?
  • If 10 or 20% salary is deposited on wife’s name, what about the maintenance money to wife, if she deserts the husband and files a maintenance case on husband?
  • Will this law create new financial skirmishes between wives and husbands? Like 498-A of Penal Code, Maintenance laws, domestic violence laws, will this law also be misused by some wives?

Blogger Surya Murali too is wondering how the government proposes to implement a law such as this. She says on her blog:

 I am all for the empowerment of women, and also their financial independence… (but) my biggest question to these lawmakers is that how are they planning to implement the proposal? If they go about doing it the way such that a husband shares a percentage of his income with his wife for her work, I don’t see how it makes the economic situation of the house any better or how it makes the woman independent and empowered.  The gross income remaining the same, the household economy is not changed.  Most responsible husbands, in my belief, would share the running costs of the household with their wives anyway… if that isn’t the case, then this sort of a scheme is not going to improve the husband-wife equation of those households.

At iDiva, Archana Jayakumar asks:

How does all of this not make her anything but a glorified servant?

Sunita at Supari.org agrees and calls this proposed Bill as “family breaking move” by the government. Blogger LordRaj concludes that

Under the guise of ‘development and welfare' of women, all you have been doing is promoting a bias against men.

Men's rights groups tend to agree. Vicky Nanjappa points out:

A proposal to part with a portion of the husband’s salary and hand it over to the wife has been strongly opposed by Men’s rights groups…The ‘Save Family Foundation’ has written a letter to Krishna Tirath, Union Minister for Women and Child Development, seeking immediate withdrawal of the proposal. The foundation, representing around 40 different men’s organizations across the country, has termed this proposal as one-sided.

The Cursed Indian Male appears to be feeling the pressure already. He laments:

With such incentives, it is not surprising that many wives would rather just sit idle, and get free doles from their husbands, with the kind blessings of the Indian judicial system.  And all this under the guise of women empowerment

However, others are more positive to this proposal for various reasons. For example, in a discussion in the Defence Forum India, Yusuf appears pleased. He writes:

Actually this news is music to my ears. Gives me more ways to save tax. :-)

Blogger Surya Murali goes on to offer, what she feels is a more practical solution to the issue, something that will truly benefit the women without getting her into the “employer-employee” hierarchy within the family. She suggests:

Let the government work out a method in which they evaluate the households economically and they give the housewives / homemakers an allowance. This totally skips the husband as a middleman and is a direct deal between the people who want the housewives to be empowered and the housewives. In my opinion, this would not only help the women be independent, it will also improve the general quality of life in households which otherwise manage with meager means. Thus, both targets of economic upliftment and female empowerment would be achieved.

InfoQueenBee agrees and adds:

Instead of making the law to provide for the ‘salary’ to the housewife, some other schemes may be introduced such as statutory-minimum/compulsory life-insurance, medical insurance, investments etc. for the housewives and children.

While we wait to see what happens to the Minister's proposal, it appears that the debate surrounding the question of the husband being forced to pay his “house engineer” an ‘honorarium' for household work, is far from over.

This article is posted under a Creative Commons license. It first appeared on Global Voices.

Image via Neil Moralee