PART III: THE ‘INSIGNIFICANT’ TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS
Encounter with an advanced capitalist economyby Farooque Chowdhury
ONE of today’s undeniable facts is women’s labour almost all over the world is underpaid and unpaid.
Nowadays many are asking: ‘[Are] housewives paid [with] wages? By the government? That may seem outlandish to some, but consider the staggering amount of unpaid work carried out by women.’ The International Wages for Housework Campaign, a network of women in Third World and industrialised countries, demands unwaged work that women do are to be recognised as work in official government statistics, and this work be paid. Lena Graber and John Miller discuss the issue in their ‘Wages for housework: the movement & the numbers’: ‘Producing credible numbers for the value of women’s work in the home is no easy task. Calculating how many hours women spend performing housework … is just the first step. The hours are considerable in both developing and industrialized economies.’ (Eds. Amy Gluckman, John Miller, Bryan Snyder, and Chris Sturr, Readings in Macroeconomics, 28th edition)
As example of hours spent by women in household work Graber and Miller refer to a set of data related to the issue. In Australia, 2 hours and 27 minutes were spent for child care per day in a household by a woman in 1997. In the UK in 2000, it was 1 hour and 26 minutes. while in Nepal the time spent for the same purpose in 1996 was two minutes more than that of the UK. In Norway, it was 42 minutes in 2000 while in Japan it was 24 minutes in 1999. Time spent for food preparation was: Australia – 1 hour 29 minutes, Norway – 49 minutes, the UK – 1 hour 8 minutes, Nepal – 5 hour 30 minutes. Time spent for water and fuel collection in Nepal was 1 hour 10 minutes while in Norway it was 1 minute. Time was also spent for cleaning and shopping. The total time spent was: Australia – 3 hour 39 minutes, Japan – 3 hour 34 minutes, Norway – 3 hour 56 minutes, the UK – 4 hour 55 minutes.
The sources of this information were: www.abs.gov.au/ausstats; www.unescap.org/stat (Japan); www.ssb.no/tidsbruk_en (Norway); www.statistics.gov.uk/themes/social_finances/TimeUseSurvey; www.cbs.nl/isi/iass (Nepal). A number of data were not available. The data cited are not comparable between the countries referred to here because of difference between the economies and time period of data gathering. However, the data provide a picture of women labour deprivation. All the economies cited here are capitalist and all but Nepal are advanced capitalist countries.
Citing the International Labour Organisation, Graber and Miller say: In 1990, women carried out two-thirds of the world’s work for 5% of the income. In 1995, the UN Development Programme’s Human Development Report estimated that women’s unpaid and underpaid labor was worth $11 trillion worldwide, and $1.4 trillion in the US. The share of the advanced economy is more than one-tenth.
Paying women the wages for the household work, the economists argue, ‘would go a long way toward undoing these inequities and reducing women’s economic dependence on men.’ The UN 4th World Conference on Women developed a Platform for Action in 1995 that called on governments to calculate the value of women’s unpaid work and include it in conventional measures of national output, for example, in GDP.
Only a handful of countries including Trinidad & Tobago and Spain have passed legislation mandating the new accounting. A number of countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, the Dominican Republic, India, Japan, Nepal, New Zealand, Tanzania, and Venezuela have undertaken extensive surveys to determine how much time is spent on unpaid household work. (ibid)
There are different approaches to put value to the household work: output-based evaluation, input of household production, opportunity cost based calculation, specialist-replacement method. These techniques produce quite different results.
‘In Canada, a government survey documented the time men and women spent on unpaid work in 1992. Canadian women performed 65% of all unpaid work, shouldering an especially large share of household labor … (Men’s unpaid hours exceeded women’s only for outdoor cleaning.) … In Great Britain … unpaid labor hours are high for an industrialized country …, far greater relative to GDP. …[W]hen valued using the opportunity cost method, unpaid work was 112% of Britain’s GDP in 1995! With the specialist-replacement method, British unpaid labor was still 56% of GDP—greater than the output of the United Kingdom’s entire manufacturing sector for the year. In Japan … women perform over 80% of unpaid work … The Japanese Economic Planning Agency calculated that counting unpaid work in 1996 would add between 15.2% (generalist-replacement method) and 23% (opportunity-cost method) to GDP. Even at those levels, the value of unpaid labor still equaled at least half of Japanese women’s market wages.’ (ibid)
‘While estimates vary by country and evaluation method, all of these calculations make clear that recognizing the value of unpaid household labor profoundly alters our perception of economic activity and women’s contributions to production. “Had household production been included in the system of macro-economic accounts,” notes Ann Chadeau, [a researcher with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] ‘governments may well have implemented quite different economic and social policies.’ For example, according to the UNDP, ‘the inescapable implication [of recognizing women’s unpaid labor] is that the fruits of society’s total labor should be shared more equally.’ For the UNDP, this would mean radically altering property and inheritance rights; access to credit; entitlement to social security benefits, tax incentives, and child care; and terms of divorce settlements. (ibid)
The great financial crisis has aggravated the situation. Burden on women has increased. It has spread outside of households. ‘Since the Great Recession began in December 2007,’ writes Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, in the Readings in Macroeconomics, ‘there [in the US] has been a sharp rise in the number of married couples where a woman is left to bring home the bacon because her husband is unemployed.’ The reason is “men have experienced greater job losses than women over the course of this recession, losing three out of every four jobs lost.’ (‘Women Breadwinners, Men Unemployed’)
In 2009, share of families having unemployed men while women held job rose sharply compared to 2007. In the first five months of 2009, 5.4 per cent of working wives had an unemployed husband at home compared to an average of 2.4 per cent over the first five months of 2007. In terms of number about 2 million working wives with an unemployed husband. (ibid.)
The hardship in household increases as family budget gets strained ‘since women typically earn only 78 cents for every dollar men earn. In the typical married-couple family where both spouses work, the wife brings home just over a third — 35.6% — of the family’s income.’ (ibid)
If the issue of unpaid household work is set aside temporarily for the sake of putting ‘things simply’ the hard fact that comes up is of ‘giving’ women labour less money compared to men, and asking, actually compelling, women labour to take larger burden.
A single area can be cited as example of hardship. Boushey writes: ‘[M]ost families receive health insurance through the employers of their husbands. So when husbands lose their jobs, families are left struggling to find ways to pay for health insurance at the same time they are living on just a third of their prior income.’
The hardship increases when the family has child. Boushey provides data: ‘Families with children have been hit especially hard hit by unemployment. Among working wives in families with a small child — under age six — at home, 5.9% have an unemployed husband. […T]here are 1 million working wives with children at home, but an unemployed husband.’
Boushey moves further with hard data that provides harder aspect of life during the period: ‘There has also been a sharp rise in the share of families where both the husband and wife are unemployed. Between the first five months of 2007 and of 2009, the share of married-couple families with both spouses unemployed rose to 0.5% from 0.1%, meaning that one in 500 families is struggling with dual unemployment. The share of families with a child under age 18 with both parents unemployed is 0.6%, meaning that one in 165 families with children have both parents looking for work.’
These facts show the cruel face of the economy that is concerned only with profit. The hardship of women labour can be gauged fully if necessary labour time and surplus labour time are considered. With less wage women labour has to survive, make arrangement for survival of family members, work unpaid in household. But she isn’t allowed to produce less. This is an economy that at times even cares not to wear mask of humanity.
Dhaka-based freelancer Farooque Chowdhury contributes on socioeconomic issues.
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