When women are not paid

Published On: January 5, 2021 07:00 AM NPT By: Roshani Giri

Until and unless Nepali women are relieved of their burden of unpaid domestic works, gender equality in workforce will remain a mirage and the goal of women empowerment elusive.


Right to receive decent pay for one’s labour is a fundamental human right recognized in modern day international law and by constitutions (including Nepal’s) around the globe. Yet, the masculinity of human rights and the failure to bring the feminist concept to mainstream human rights has promoted the gender-stereotypes where the ‘right to be paid’ has effectively been an exclusive right of men and those of women are reduced to ‘unpaid duty of domestic chores’.

This fundamental failure of understanding ‘labour’ in a patriarchy like Nepal has reduced the status of women to be second to men when it comes to economic productivity and independence. Furthermore, the characterization of women’s unpaid work in domestic sphere as informal, invisible and unrecognized in the economic consideration has led to the marginalization of women in workforce. This has weakened women’s socioeconomic position and forced them to carry out unpaid domestic chores, which turns into a paid work once a ‘third-person’ like a domestic helper is hired.

Flawed gender norms

The traditional Nepali understanding of a family almost considers it inherent and granted that certain domestic chores are exclusive to women, that males are the ‘bread-winners’ and thus the trivial works of domestic chores should be left to women while males do the ‘intellectual or physical labour’. This itself reinforces the hierarchy of gendered superiority and inferiority in a family and society.

As a matter of fact, the domestic chores amounts to a full-time work (more than eight hours of office work) with constant domestic upkeep, cooking, cleaning, care taking and keeping up with the demands of the family. A woman is constantly putting on her labour from early morning till every member goes to bed, without being recognized (let alone paid or socially considered) for her constant efforts. This socially defined gendered-role is not only wrong in the sense of ‘rights being violated’ (discussed below) but the use (in fact exploitation) of women to reinforce and put up with the patriarchal construction of what a woman is supposed or expected to do, to the detriment of their own rights and welfare.

Article 34 of Nepal’s Constitution guarantees the right to receive appropriate remuneration for one’s labour. It is implausible to conceive that a woman receives no pay (or recognition in terms of productivity) for the domestic chores, while a third-person gets paid if hired for the same job. Though the clear message of the provision of the constitution provides a picture of ‘one being paid for one’s labour’, in practice, it has been a right of men to be recognized and paid for their labour.

To add to his violation of fundamental right, regrettably, while calculating a country’s GDP, the portion of labour done by women in the form of domestic chores and their economic implications are not even considered, despite the fact that the value of domestic work can contribute more to economy that commerce, transport and manufacturing (Women’s Economic Empowerment in the Changing World of Work, 2016). Regardless of the hours a woman puts in domestic labour, such works are labelled ‘daily chores’ and thus not accounted either in the GDP or employment metrics as women who do not count in the formal employment sectors are counted as ‘unemployed’. As these labours at home do not visibly generate products or services to be sold in the market, economic considerations dismiss a massive portion of work done by women and reduces them to ‘duty’. Interestingly, a good figure of GDP and low rate of employment is taken as a reflection of prosperity of the whole country. But how can it reflect prosperity of the whole country when often times this prosperity is not shared by women as their role is invisible, and so is their consideration of the share of prosperity?

Non-discrimination based on any grounds, including marital status, is a foundation of modern day international human rights law but in Nepali society, this discrimination is so deeply embedded that it has penetrated every member of the society including the so-called ‘educated generation’. What creates a bitterer situation is the fact that a marriage, in practice, reduces a woman’s status to that of domestic worker as she is not only expected but also obligated to do all the domestic chores and take care of her husband and his family. And the career/formal job is an option if she finds time after her full-time job of household works. This situation forces a number of women (especially after child birth) to give up their career as they are unable to take up the two full-time jobs (one of home and one of office).

Excluding a small portion of (uneducated) women who do the domestic chores as a matter of choice, a large number of women fail to make their appearance in the job-market as they fail to balance their full-time job of domestic work including children and family members and their career. The worse part of all this chunk of unpaid, unrecognized and unappreciated works to which Nepali women often spend their entire life on is that the society has brainwashed women to believe that ‘it is their social role’.

Double burden  

When it comes to the gendered social-roles, women take up the burden of the unpaid domestic work throwing them to the shadows of invisibility of their economic contribution and the forced financial dependency on men, thereby putting them in the vicious cycle of thousands of hours of unpaid work and their social/economic status. In a patriarchal society like Nepal, the secondary status of women is reinforced by this ‘unpaid’ domestic work for which women are neither appreciated nor counted for in economic productivity. While a man can come home from office and rest in front of a TV, the woman (coming from the same job and time period) is expected and, in fact, obligated to resume domestic chores the moment she reaches home. This creates an unfair hierarchy and goes against the foundation of human rights that men and women are equal.

While women do more unpaid work than men in all countries, situation of countries like Nepal is more dreadful. In a number of countries, especially those who do not have patriarchy embedded in their system, as women move from unpaid domestic chores to the formal paid jobs, the domestic chores are taken up by men and thus men’s share in unpaid work increases. However, in Nepal, even when a woman takes up formal jobs (as stated above), the male counterparts do not take up the unpaid work. According to a study more than 90 percent of women do not receive any help for domestic chores, rather a woman is forced to take both her ‘full-time’ jobs in parallel (Menaka Rajbhandari, A Study on the Economic Valuation of Women’s unpaid work in Kathmandu Valley, 2008). This not only causes gender-inequality but also significantly reduces a woman’s career prospects.

Thus, until and unless Nepali women are relieved of their burden of unpaid domestic works and of nursing the family, gender equality in workforce will remain a mirage and the goal of women empowerment elusive. But recognition of women’s domestic work as a genuine work gives them a sense of equality (‘I work too’ feeling) in a traditional Nepali family and thus brings them in parity with men.

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