What is the worth of a woman? What is the contribution of a homemaker to society and its development? A woman contribution to her family is out of love, and she deserves appreciation for all that she does. But what really is the value of unpaid work?
Radhika Maira Tabrez shares some effective measures we can take to keep ourselves from becoming worthless warriors.
One day, a man comes home from work, only to find his house looking like it’s been hit by a tornado. Clothes and toys strewn all over the place. Dirty dishes in the sink; even dirtier kids playing in the garden. No sign of dinner on the table. He walks in to his bedroom, and sees his wife sitting leisurely and sipping wine.
“What the hell is going on?” he fumes.
She responds, calmly, “Remember, you asked me yesterday what is it that I do all day?”
“Well… I didn’t do that today.”
Unless one has been living in a cave for the last few months, which is another way of saying that they have no social media presence whatsoever, they are bound to have come across this joke. What’s above is pretty much the gist of it, and I know, it probably gets a chuckle or two out of everyone who reads it. But look closely and you’ll see the big problem with it.
According to a recent study by Oxfam, presented at the World Economic Forum, almost $10 trillion worth of unpaid work is done by women across the globe, which is almost 43 times the annual turnover of the world’s biggest company, Apple. In India alone, the unpaid work done by women in their households is worth 3.1 percent of the country’s GDP. Now, this news too, just like the joke above, might get a momentary reaction from the ones who hear it, perhaps some furrowed eyebrows or a consolatory head shake, but nothing more.
Women’s contribution to their households and families is given as much thought, as the trees that provide us oxygen. Everyone agrees they are important, in theory, but does nothing to respect or preserve their presence. Could the problem be that when it comes to speaking up against such inconsiderate treatment, women are just as mute as those trees?
I recently wrote a story about a young woman, Farzana Siddiqui, who has spent her entire life trying to hold up and heal her broken family, in whatever way she could; by sacrificing whatever she could. And yet her family never learns to respect her for her contributions. In fact, only starts to take her for granted. In due course, she comes to realize that it is partly because she never really asserted her rights as the major contributor to her family. She never spoke up, and hence eventually, everyone stopped respecting her voice.
But this is quite a conundrum. Because if you know women who do learn to speak up, eventually, you also know of the backlash they receive from their families and society at large. They are called names, disparaged, and often, even ostracized.
Look around at any family you know, even yours, for that matter, and you’d find that it is almost always a woman at the center of it all, holding it all together. Take her out of the picture and the whole thing falls apart like a house of cards. And yet, how many of those women are respected for all that they do, and all that they give up, to do it.
The society we live in is designed to perpetuate this system. In our country, for example, it’s the woman who has to give up her home and her life when she marries a man. Often enough she foregoes her education and career, to build a home and family from a scratch. A man who contributes financially to his family works but a few hours a day, but a homemaker’s working hours are endless. So are her job profile, her roles and responsibilities. The only thing that’s limited and scarce in her life is appreciation for it all.
Paraphrasing here what the famous Indian social scientist, developmental feminist, author and poet Kamla Bhasin said once in an interview – men bring home the dough, but it is of no use until a woman turns it into bread. Hence we must value a woman for the time and energy she puts in converting the dough into bread. But where is their compensation? Their appreciation?
It’s a legacy of a patriarchal culture – a woman relegated to a corner in the kitchen of a home. Raising children who carry someone else’s name. Because she has been raised to believe she doesn’t have either of that of her own- a house or a name. It’s either her father’s or her husband’s.
Another video that went viral a few months ago was that of an executive holding fake interviews for a position which required almost impossible time, energy and mental contributions; in return of zero monetary compensation. Almost everyone whom he interviews for the job refuses saying it is beyond unreasonable; after which he goes on to inform them that what he has just defined is the role of typical mother in any household. The video ends with all interviewees getting emotional and teary eyed. Do such meaningless platitudes serve any purpose, other than a momentary and often superficial surge of emotions in a viewer that doesn’t bring about any real change in their behavior?
So what will bring a change in the behavior? Well to expect the answer to come from the menfolk would probably be akin to what happened in Davos recently. The leaders and key change makers of the world landed there for a Climate Change Conference in a never before seen bevy of private jets. In one word, paradoxical.
But I pose this question to my sorority at large. Just like Farzana Siddiqui, I think it is time we acknowledge that our acquiescence is just as much a part of the problem as the oppression. I’m not asking for anything radical like mass-movements, or total suspension of the current family structures and protocols. Radical solutions don’t always do the job. Slow and steady, but firm measures do.
All I’m asking for is simply this.
Can the boys we raise be different from the men we have endured? If we’ve suffered in the hands of unappreciative men, and yet our sons grow up to be incapable of acknowledging the value and contribution of women in their life, are we not an accessory to that crime?
The next time we find our boys bossing over their sister or a female friend, let’s not overlook. Let’s intervene. Let’s teach them respect and appreciation, from when they are young and moldable. Let’s teach them to be respectful of our – their mothers’ – choices, our space and our liberties as an individual, so that tomorrow he affords the same to the other women he meets in his life?
Let’s not just read this piece, nod our head in agreement, heave a cold sigh and get back to finishing cooking or laundry, like a warrior who must keep fighting even though she knows the world would never recognize her worth.
Radhika Maira Tabrez is the author of ‘In The Light Of Darkness’ – her debut novel, for which she won the Muse India – Satish Verma Young Writer Award (2016). In 2017 she was one of the winners of the Rising Stars India Award, presented by We Are The City to women who are trailblazers in their respective fields. In March 2018 she became the first Indian ever to speak at a TEDx event in Bangladesh. In November 2018 she was adjudged one of the ‘100 Most Inspiring Authors’ in India, by Indian Awaz.
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