Struggling wives: The cheapest and faceless labourers of India
Babita Tiwari is one of those lakhs of women who works in unorganized sectors for way less than the amount she deserves. In my locality, several women work for 10 to 12 hours a day at different unorganized sectors for just 4000 to 5000 bucks a month. The gender pay gap is so wide in India that it affects women and the economy severely. The bigger problem is that all these women don’t get recognition either in society as independent women or at their homes as equal financial supporter. Many women go to work after doing all the house chores, sending kids to schools, and they cook after they return from the work.
Babita Tiwari married in 2013 and now she is raising two daughters. Being a woman from a rural village of Uttarakhand, she lacks the technical skills to get a decent job in Delhi. In the beginning, she would get some home-based work such as decorating the glass bangles. Her husband was in room service at a Delhi hotel. She tells that things went worse after the government announced the lockdown. At first, they waited as the government imposed the lockdown for 21-days, but after it was extended, Babita and her husband both lost their income sources. They left Delhi for Uttarakhand to save extra expenses such as house rent, electricity bills, food, etc. They came back to Delhi after three months to get school admission of their daughter and to get some work too. As the tourism industry was totally collapsed due to the pandemic, Babita’s husband couldn’t find a job and he still remains jobless. Luckily, Babita found a job near her house at a local factory where she fills, sews and decorates stuff toys. She goes to work at around 10 am and returns at 8 pm and sometimes after 9 pm too. She gets half an hour for lunch where she comes home, eats her meal and then does the dishes too. She tells that for 8-hours work, she gets 4,000 bucks a month, and the owner sometimes calls her on Sundays too. Earlier, she was at another factory where she was getting paid 5,000 rupees and there were no offs. She would go to work on Sundays too.
Why women at local factories are getting paid too low?
It is unlawful to underpay the labours, still, it happens on a large scale in the country. Workers in the unorganized sectors don’t get the benefits of the minimum wages. But why women remain the most affected labours amongst all?
In the local factories or unorganized sectors, the majority of the workforce is filled with women. These unorganized workplaces usually don’t get huge profits and the work is occasional. Mostly, the work comes during the festive seasons, and due to these reasons, many of these sectors underpay their labours. Men usually don’t accept the low pay as they have more option than women, while on the other hand, women are the easy targets to convince for the underpay and overwork. Women see this as an opportunity to get financial independence, extra money to support their family and to save for the emergency. They don’t usually say no to a job as more women have started finding such jobs for financial stability, and the pandemic made the competition even tougher.
When I asked Babita why does she work for such a low cost, she replied that “due to the covid pandemic, it was really hard to get a job, and when I got the offer, I couldn’t say no as my husband already had lost his job.” She further said that the job is near to her home, it is around 200 meters away from the house, which gives her time to take care of her daughters, to come home to eat freshly cooked food, and it also saves the travel money.
On her pre-covid work, she said that it gave her financial stability and financial independence. She could buy cosmetic products, she can buy more clothes, she can spend the money on herself and contribute to the household goods.
Babita also learnt sewing after she moved to Delhi with her husband. She sews women suits, blouses, etc. in her free time, and sometimes she gets urgent ordered which she does after returning from the work.
Many women in metro cities are now working and supporting their husbands financially and emotionally. The men are now contributing to household chores. However, in patriarchy-diverted society, many men still feel ashamed of doing house chores, they still consider it as a wife’s responsibility. But as the women are becoming financial supporter, they want the equal support of their husbands in the household chores.
In my locality, I know over two dozens women who work at different factories, Anganwadis, schools and shops. And all of them cook, laundry and do other house chores before leaving for work. But, as the pandemic hit the lives, it brought some good changes too. Many men lost their jobs, while some women still managed to find work in factories and shops, which helped them to appear as financial supporter. Many men went to the kitchen as women went to work. There are still many men that remained affected by the pandemic and couldn’t find a job even after a year of lockdown, while their wives elevated as the bread earner.
Like Babita Tiwari, there are lakhs of women in India who work at unorganized sectors, homes, shops, and supermarkets for very low amounts and extra hours than men. But they are still not considered as an equal financial supporter of the family. However, many of those women saved their families from financial crunches during the pandemic, and many men acknowledged their role in finances. As more women are becoming financially independent, the world is seeing gender inequality narrowing. Financial independence is a strong way to bring gender equality and end male dominance. However, the world, especially the third world countries, still need to go a long way to bring a complete change.