Actionaid ActEqual campaign and valuation of household work

Actionaid India has released three videos for their Actequal campaign where they are trying to promote equality of genders and we find many things wrong in that.

The first video says that – “No Child Should Skip School”

This video shows a boy taking care of all household work including taking care of his little sibling while his sister goes to school and parents to work. At a first glance we don’t find anything wrong in this video except the fact that the boy doesn’t go to school at all, even though the voice over says “…both boys and girls will go to school”. Since visual cues are always stronger than verbal cues this video does not give us any sense of equality except prompting parents to keep their sons at home working for household work.

How it could be improved – Since the point here was to share all work, why the sister didn’t do some of the household work and then both went to school together. The child was taken care of the by the boy. Why our traditional grandparents not shown to take care of the baby?

A second video says – 75% Indian farmhands are women, but we only think of a male farmer

I am not sure how did actionaid get the number 75% and what are the different job roles included in that estimate of farmhands but this figure surely looks fudged. Even though in our villages we have more women working compared to any of the cities, that figure will never take the stats to 75% of farmhands being female.

Keeping the statistics aside, this video asks when will women own the tools and the machines of agricultural work? The visuals show women on a tractor. Here the point straightway comes to the physical strength required for a particular area of work. We may not be surprised to see a woman from Punjab or Haryana driving a tractor or handling heavy agricultural ploughs but does that mean every other Indian woman will be equally capable of doing the same? Even imagining such a situation is absurd and there is no gender inequality there. Simply because some women may be equally capable of doing these work, it will never mean that any woman can do that. Actionaid team has surely gone out of their mind while creating this campaign this way.

A third video released for ActEqual shows men bringing water for their households and pledges to Share the work –

Visuals of this video shows women doing electrical cable fixing work in high voltage lines and men bringing water for their households. This video seeks to bring equality where anyone will perform any work. However, this video again forgets the fact that some women may be good in performing high risk work like fixing high tension cables. But not every woman will find it suitable. Men being the stronger gender, need to take up roles demanding strength and there is no gender discrimination behind this.

This campaign also urge Indians to take a pledge to count household work as a productive work and be recognized so. For those who can’t read between the fine lines, this is nothing but old feminist agenda of valuing household work very highly. The problem with that approach is once the household work is valued highly then all the household maids and servants need to be paid more, too. Then most of the households that employ such maids today, will not be able to employ them as a result not only many such maids will lose jobs but also many couples in nuclear families will find it difficult to get their jobs done.

We need to understand the fundamentals of economics to understand this. Value of any goods and services depends on supply and demand. Since we have cheap labour force available in India for maid- servants we see those people earning their daily bread. Valuing household work highly may be beneficial for USA because they don’t have this supply of cheap labour. Also in USA, available jobs are more. Still USA outsource some of their low value adding jobs to countries like India. Similarly, in a household situation the couple outsources their household work to needy poor people and it becomes a win-win situation for all. Raising the value of household work in India is not only impossible from economics point of view but it is highly unnatural, illogical and unjustified. This will widen rich/poor divide for obvious reasons.

To elaborate this, let’s take example of an average Indian household with a couple and two children. Let’s say husband is the only earning member of the family with monthly take home salary of Rs. 25,000. It is impossible for the couple to value wife’s household work at Rs 25,000 because if they do so then the monthly family income becomes Rs. 50,000 with 50% of the money never seen. I will not discuss the tax component on the perceived value of wife’s work and let’s assume govt. does not charge them any tax for that. If this family wants to employ any maid, they will have to give her a salary equal to that amount of the perceived value. Since the labour supply is more, this value will never reach that high and the existence of wife becomes very damaging for the couple’s finances simply because of unnecessary valuation of household work where neither the productivity, quality nor customer satisfaction is measured, evaluated or appraised.

So it is clear that the valuation of household work can’t be increased unnecessarily even if the housewife work for 12 hours a day and the husband works only for 8 hours for the capitalist world. Going by this logic the doorkeeper or security guys working in our companies, standing in the sun or drenching in rain or even at nights and working for 12 hours most of the time will demand equal salary to the CEO of the company. If that is not possible, then valuing household work highly is also not feasible.

So sharing of all work becomes important. Even though the Actionaid campaign that talks about everyone doing all work, sharing responsibility etc. creates positive vibes but that is also not possible in all situation. There may be women who can earn equal or more than men but generalizing this for all our families will be a disaster. Similarly, while everyone will probably agree that even boys need to share household work and girls should get equal education opportunities, it is better left at the discretion of the individual families. If the boy is good in studies and the girl hates studies, there is no point in forcing education on the girl and household work on the boy. The way Actionaid projected (the boy doing all household work) in one of its videos also creates discrimination in gullible minds that in order to educate girls, boys need to be deprived.

Seeking money for girls from Maneka Gandhi
Now girls’ families don’t hesitate to ask money or benefits for girls’ education – WCD interaction with general public

The situation has become even worse today with this focus on girl’s education. Now people expect govt. to pay money to girls who go to school. There are parents who shamelessly ask for such help or ask for waiver of interest on education loan because it was taken for a girl. So while girls get more benefits, opportunities and education boys don’t get anything. In a way such campaigns still marginalize boys and suppress their needs, as evident from the campaigns home page, that talks about equality but raise fund only for women –

Actionaid

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