Housewives and mothers have very demanding jobs. However, they also happen to be one of the "most undervalued" workers. Women, including those who have full-time jobs, spend a disproportionate amount of hours on housework relative to men - the average woman spends 26 hours a week doing unpaid work - £260 worth. For men, its 16 hours. Not paying women for housework is a social norm. However, in Nigeria especially, paying a cook or maid to undertake these same chores is a natural labour market transaction.
Why do we find it easy to pay other people to do our household tasks but not our wives?
The Second Invisible Shift
Perhaps it's the way we view economic activity. A husband paying his wife to cook dinner or change the baby's diapers only transfers income within the house. It does not raise the total income earned by that household. This is different from hiring a chef or nanny with a separate family unit to do these same tasks - in this case; we pay for a service like a haircut.
By not paying women for thier valuable work, we run the risk of rendering many women economically invisible - a housewife creates a lot of value, but the economy doesn't see it. As far as the market is concerned, the tasks our wives or mothers perform at home have less monetary value.
Advocates for paying women for housework will argue that not earning money limits women from doing their own thing; taking up a new hobby or helping a needy relative - men officially spend more time on leisure. The issue becomes even more dangerous when we consider women stuck in abusive marriages because they are financially dependent.
More money, more problems
So can paid housework deliver more equitable outcomes? Not exactly.
The first hurdle to overcome is deciding who pays. Suggestions have already been made that either the state or the partner who does less household work (read: husband) should. But this rings paternalistic alarm bells, especially as the paying partner is likely to be the man. So doesn't this just reinforce the "man of the house" mentality? In addition, if husbands start paying wives for their time spent doing household chores, doesn't this leave married women with less autonomy over how they spend their time? We only need to look at the restrictions Nigerians place on domestic staff to see how paying women to perform household tasks might be less empowering than we think.
We also need to think about who gets paid. Is it the stay-at-home mum (or dad)? What about women who go to work and then come home to do housework after a long day? And will special arrangements be made for households without children where the woman still cares for the man?
Overall, its possible that paying women for housework might not do much to advance feminism and correct the gender imbalance we see in today's society. Presently, countries like Italy and India are already considering bills to pay housewives. Perhaps paying households "child care benefits" is a better way to brand the transfer - a number of European countries currently do this. However, paying Nigerians for children may have unintended consequences -think population. It also excludes the housewives without children.
Finally, if the government pays then we also need to consider how implementing a policy like this might also put a strain on state finances. Venezuela used to pay homemakers 80% of the national minimum wage ($180 a month), and while all the blame for the country's economic malaise should not be placed on this policy, heavily socialist programmes like this can be a drain to a government's budget.
In general, by paying women to keep performing household duties, we are essentially agreeing that a woman's place is in the kitchen, and men should keep going out into the labour market to earn more.
That said, the idea has compelling economic logic – we pay people when they create value in nearly every part of the society, why don't mothers (or fathers) receive the same treatment for the value they create at home?
Ultimately, the best way to tackle this would be to deal with housework imbalance and gender inequality directly. It shouldn't take much for men to see the dignity in performing more daily household tasks, so that time spent working on the home is allocated more fairly. At this point, many men might feel compelled to remind us that they help out in the home as well. But unless the generator needs refuelling or the car needs to be tuned every day, women are still carrying out disproportionately more household work than men. Demanding pay for the work we do at home is bold and thought-provoking but it might not be the solution. True that financial freedom broadens our choices but going down this route could make us even more dependent on our husbands than we need to be.
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