ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Revaluing Unpaid Work

The Case of the Orunodoi Scheme in Assam

The 2021 state assembly elections offered a unique and unexpected opportunity for the recognition of women’s unpaid domestic and care work through the promises of unconditional cash transfers. These cash transfers present feminists with a valuable opportunity to theorise the welfare state. This article uses primary data and in-depth interviews to evaluate one such scheme, namely the Orunodoi scheme in Assam.

The author is thankful to Prakash Das and Trishna Saikia for their invaluable assistance in conducting interviews with the Orunodoi beneficiaries in Assam. She expresses her gratitude to the North East Network, particularly Monisha Behel and Anurita Hazarika for their generous support. She is also grateful to the anonymous reviewer for their comments. This research is supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (Agreement No 772946).

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the high levels of unpaid domestic and care work (UDCW) performed by women the world over. In India, long before the pandemic, studies have documented the unequal and gendered distribution of such unpaid work. The 2019 time-use survey by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) revealed that women spent up to 352 minutes per day on domestic work while men spent 52 minutes (GoI 2020). This disproportionate burden is attributable to cultures of “gendered familialism” (Parliwala and Neetha 2009) whereby care is considered to be a familial and female responsibility. This burden in turn is presented as one of the main reasons for India’s low and declining female labour force participation rate and as an obstacle to growth. Numerous international organisations have turned their attention to the relationship between women’s paid employment and their unpaid work obligations resulting in Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 5.4 whereby states are requir­ed to recognise, reduce, and redistribute UDCW through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies, and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate.

In India, the 2021 state assembly elections offered a unique and unexpected opportunity for the recognition of women’s UDCW through promises of unconditional cash transfers. Debates over the desirability of cash transfers (for example, universal basic income, income transfers, and minimum income guarantee) are hardly new (Drèze 2019; Ghatak and Muralidharan 2021; Khosla 2018; Standing 2012). These proposals assumed political significance in the 2019 general elections when major political parties backed them. However, concerns have been expressed about the potential of these proposals to undermine, even replace rights-based legislation, depoliticise citizen’s claims on the state and thwart more ambitious attempts at the redistribution of resources. Yet, the politics of these welfare measures have not been adequately theorised from a feminist perspective. As women become a key electoral group and bend the “arc of democracy” in state elections (Aiyar 2022), political parties have found unconditional cash transfers to be an effective way to reach them.

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Updated On : 9th Jul, 2022
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