Care work is considered the lowest of all jobs. It is not looked at with respect and respect barely exists for the care worker. In its annual Global Gender Gap Report (2020), India continues to be ranked poorly in terms of improving the gender gap. At a composite rank of 112 out of 153 countries, it has moved down four places from its previous rank of 108, and the economic gap has gotten significantly wider since 2006. The ILO observed that care work involves a range of skills that are often not formally recognised or remunerated, and involving working conditions that are not regulated.
Care work involves a majority of women. The word ‘housewife’ is heavily sexist in the sense that it designates the woman solely to the work within the four walls and despite the work undertaken; it is considered their moral duty and not work. You might have come across individuals saying, ‘she doesn’t work, she is a housewife’. Is there a word for men who do the same? They are called, ‘stay at home husband/parent’.
Care work as mentioned is lowly paid and discriminated against. The Wire reported, “A significant proportion of women respondents also highlighted the additional burden of arranging for food due to the stringent implementation of the lockdown and the increased instances of police harassment of men. The COVID-19 pandemic has once again underscored the gross imbalances in the gender distribution of unpaid care work and more than half of the women respondents indicated that the unequal division of the domestic responsibilities was prevalent and stated that no one helped them with household chores.” Women often hold the main responsibility of care for patients who have been discharged from hospitals early, or placed in quarantine at home, as hospitals struggle to stem the tide of the Covid-19. While women are at the frontlines of the Coronavirus pandemic, their own health keeps being pushed to the lowest priority.
The domestic help was laid off or left to fend for them at the beginning of the pandemic. They were not paid for the months during which they were not called to work. In the corporate world, individuals are paid full salary despite working from home so isn’t it unfair that the people who make our home a better place for us to live is not paid?
Besides domestic workers, the ASHA workers at the grass-root level who are responsible for spreading awareness about the virus and collect door to door samples are paid as low as Rs.3000/- a month without proper access to PPE kits, sanitizers and gloves. These protective suits are usually designed to suit the bodies of men. Construction workers were the worst hit as all of them reported a loss of paid work while 97% of the street vendors said that they had access to no source of income during the lockdown period. Further, only 6% of the construction workers received the relief amount from the Delhi Building & Other Construction Workers Board (DBOCW) and no special benefits have been announced by the Delhi welfare board – especially for the women construction workers. These unorganised workers are prone to take loans from local money lenders who charge high interest usually leaving them in debt.
The cut in wages of the unorganised sector and especially women is unjust. It is to be noted that care work is paid work. The contractors who hire these workers find it easier to dominate women and dismiss their wages completely. It is disheartening to see frontline COVID-19 workers face this discriminatory behaviour who must be protected at all costs with due and fixed wages.