Women ask: Where are our Trillion Dollar output?
Prof R Vaidyanathan

Whenever some visitors asked my elder sister, “Do you work?”, she used to be amused. She used to say, “What else I do from 5 am to 10 pm every day”. For most people household work is not considered as ‘work’. It is not included in computing national income or Gross Domestic Product (GDP). National income by definition is aggregate of products and services produced in a country during the year. But household work is not included in the services. In other words, only paid services are included. For instance if you marry your servant maid then the national income will come down. Believe me!

I had most sagacious and wise Prof Moni Mukherjee as my ‘National Income’ paper—teacher in my Post Graduation at Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta. I was curious and gathered courage (in those days you don’t meet Professors in the staff room and ask questions!) to ask him about this issue. He mentioned to me that, “Euro-Centric world view regarding un-paid household work is accepted as the ‘given wisdom’ and followed by all the economists and economies”. This means that bringing up children, cooking, keeping house in order and taking care of home economy are not considered as ‘productive’.

When you investigate further, you find that the matter is related to the ‘idea of women’ as propagated by the Abrahamic faiths, primarily Islam, who call themselves as ‘Religion of Peace’ (RoP), and Christianity who call themselves as ‘Religion of Love’ (RoL). Unfortunately, neither of these faiths - which rule over more than half of the world - accepted women as equal or ‘productive’. Christianity for centuries did not recognize that women have soul while Islam treated them as a protective meat. So one of the important premise was to de-legitimize their contribution to the world at large, more so in the sphere of economics and computation of national income.

No doubt, to earn legitimacy, women must join the workforce. Nursing was one profession that earned glorification by men. Florence of Nightingale became symbol of highest form of service – and therefore productive. With progress of industrialization and corporate development, large number of women were needed as blue color workers and also as typists, coffeemakers and office assistants. Office work thus began to be encouraged and household work relegated. Also, efforts were made to reduce time and efforts needed for household work through invention of new gadgets like cooker etc. Still, women were not given any position of importance in the outside the work floor and that encouraged them to ‘break the glass ceiling’ to get into higher positions in workforce. Gradually, advertisements, TV serials and movies began to talk of the burden of family in which children are seen as encumbrances, while at the same time, by the society. Thus was appeared the “super Moms”, created by the business and media, to make women work at home as well as in office.

Instead of recognizing their massive work at home, women are more and more encouraged to be active in office work - and to demand equal pay for equal work. Their worth is proved only if they perform the acts of men, whether it is in combatant role in the army or in car racing. They are thus continuously made to feel inferior by these tricks. A huge mass of female icons have been raised by business and corporate men to compete with men and prove their worth. Women, unfortunately, have fallen into this new trap to ‘prove’ themselves. The corporate business world has also made society into sex-centric from family-centric since the latter societies respect women in the household as mother, grandmother, mother in law etc. But modern business do not want a society which respect women but a society where women are craving for rights bits of which are thrown as crumbs by men. Arrival of Marx and communism re-enforced this stereo type idea of women in military, factories and offices being progressive while women at home were viewed as backward. Not only that, most of these developed countries gave their women voting rights after much agitations, Switzerland gave it in their federal elections as late as 1971.

Unfortunately, instead of questioning the very premise of such outlandish hypothesis, women fell for the single largest trick of men in making them feel that they are worthies only if they ape men in dress, food, aggression and office work. Post the contraceptive revolution, women are told that they can be more active in paid work place since child birth is now a choice. Instead of burning women in stakes by branding them witches, the modern business burns them in office by asking them to perform, excel and show results besides attending to unaccounted household work. The fundamental point regarding the household work not being treated as ‘productive service’ was never formally discussed since all renowned economists were men. In a pioneering work “GDP and the Value of Family Caretaking: How Much Does Europe Care?” of Gianna C. Giannelli, University of Florence et all (Discussion Paper No. 5046 July 2010 IZA-- Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit Institute for the Study of Labor) estimates that for Europe as a whole, the total value of these activities range between 20.1 per cent and 36.8 per cent of the European Union’s GDP, depending on the applied methodology.

Colonized nations like India too adopted the same hypothesis since the colonizers wanted to create a mirror image of their civilization on their culturally, linguistically and economically backward subjects. Hence we too never count million women-hours spent in cooking, fetching water, bringing up children etc. That work is totally lost. That is all the more shameful for a country like ours where major Gods are females and important things in life like education, wealth and valour are granted as boons only by them. We pray to Lakshmi for wealth, Saraswathi for education and knowledge, and invoke Durga (Jagdamba) for valor or power. Actually, most male Gods can’t offer many of these worldly things; besides, most of their names are pre-fixed, not suffixed, with their consort’s name, Sita-Rama or Radha-Krishna for example. We are one of the few living civilizations who recognized the contribution of women rishis like Gargi, who argued philosophy with the Sage Yajnavalkya.

We are essentially a women centric civilization and our economy can predominantly be called ‘Feminine Economics’ unlike that of the masculine economics of Europe and Middle East. Masculine economies are destructive and anti-woman while as feminine economies are by design nature and animal preserving. These are inclusive, collaborative and cooperative economies. Conversely, masculine nature of the Abrahamic faiths are competitive, exclusive and violent in nature, as in war.

In the last several centuries, trillions of dollars of household work undertaken by women were not counted and that flaw continues even today. In the context of the decline of the West and slow eclipse of Euro-Centric view of the world, it is required of countries like India to re-think some of these basic notions imposed by the colonialists. In an economy like ours, even if we take housework to be same as the measured work, we will find that our GDP is at least twice as big as it is currently counted.

Time has come for ancient but living non-Abrahamic civilizations like India to recognize the services of its women in a new world order. As a beginning, the Government may ask some of its eminent internationally recognised economists to estimate the trillions of dollars of uncounted services provided by housewives, sorry home makers, in India. Somewhere, we need to start.

(Views personal, extracts from author’s forthcoming book on “Feminine Economics”)

Published Date: 5th September 2016, Image Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Vivekananda International Foundation)

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