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Unsung toiler to home engineer

- Plan for homemakers

New Delhi, Sept. 12: Homemakers will be legally designated as “home engineers” if Union minister Krishna Tirath lives down a reputation for half-baked plans and pursues a proposal to compensate the unsung millions who keep India’s homes humming.

According to a law the women and child development ministry plans to bring in, work done by homemakers will for the first time be timed, recorded and analysed as part of efforts to frame a model to compensate them for their toil. The plan for compensation was briefly reported in Monday’s edition of the paper.

The idea is to make husbands set aside a part of their monthly salary to pay their homemaker wives for the hours they spend at home looking after children, helping with homework, cooking, supervising domestic helps, paying bills and shopping for groceries.

The new law is expected to refer to homemakers, a word that defines the role more accurately than the archaic housewife, as “home engineers”.

Minister Tirath, apparently inspired by an Indonesian formula of giving homemakers a percentage of their husbands’ salaries, said it was high time women working at home were recognised as part of the workforce.

“It’s not about salary and wages. In fact, we aren’t even using these words. When I say that women working 12-13 hours a day at home should be monetarily compensated, I mean that it should be mandatory for them to have PAN cards and bank accounts. Since they don’t work, they should be given money by their husbands, to spend as they please or save if they want,” Tirath said.

“This is very important as thousands of women are left in the lurch after their husbands’ death. Much of their benefits are eaten away by taxes, which they could have saved if they had PAN cards and bank accounts,” the minister added.

The ministry will base its legislation on a survey by the National Mission for the Empowerment of Women.

According to the Indonesian policy said to have inspired Tirath, homemakers are entitled to 1 per cent of their husbands’ pay as compensation for the work they do at home.

But it is a 2008 survey in Britain that appears to be the model Tirath wants to adopt. The survey said homemakers should be paid 30,000 (over Rs 26 lakh at current conversion rates) a year for their work at home.

The study revealed that British homemakers spent around 4.55 hours per day looking after their children, 71 minutes on vacuuming, cleaning and washing, 14 minutes on making beds, 63 minutes on cooking, 28 minutes on washing utensils and 39 minutes working the family’s finances.

The work of the woman was then compared to the wages that would have to be paid had the family hired a tutor, chef, domestic help and an accountant on an hourly basis.

Tirath is planning to adopt this model for Indian homemakers, modifying it to suit the urban, rural and tribal population. “The idea is to make an estimate of the contribution of unpaid work done by women to the total well-being of the family and the total GDP of the economy. We have to form a basis for the claims of unpaid workers on the state exchequer. A woman should be part of the economic empowerment, even if she works at home,” Tirath said.

Sources say Tirath wants husbands to set aside at least 10-20 per cent of their salaries every month for their wives.

The minister is scheduled to meet her state counterparts tomorrow and the day after. Ministry representatives will then meet activists and non-government organisations to discuss the draft law.

Officials in the ministry said Tirath appeared to have taken up the proposal after much thought, unlike a few other suggestions she had been associated with.

Recently, the minister said she was going to write to the law minister seeking capital punishment for dowry deaths, leaving officials scratching their heads as none was aware of such a measure.

Besides, some members of various committees of Tirath’s ministry have complained that most of their recommendations do not make it to the final draft. “More than what they include in the drafts, I have a problem with the process. The members are not even asked to sign on the final document on most occasions,” a member of the committee to review the Juvenile Justice Act had said last week.

However, Tirath has managed to pass two significant bills — one to protect children and another to prevent sexual harassment at workplaces — in the past two months and moved several amendments that have been welcomed in general.