From cooking and cleaning to children’s education and running around, she has her hands full. How can you call the homemaker a ‘not working’ woman, wonders Hema Vijay

Salary for a 24 X 7 cook — Rs. 8,000; Housekeeping — Rs. 4,000; Errands — Rs. 1, 000; Helping kids with education — Rs. 2,000; Chauffeuring — Rs. 3,000. Meena must be making a tidy Rs. 18,000 a month (without the many other services not mentioned here). At least. But then, she doesn’t — you see, she is a homemaker; the ‘not working’ woman!

Men want to be left to relax ‘at least’ on Sundays; haven’t they been working feverishly the entire week? But what about women such as Meena, who don’t have a weekly off — mandatory now for even housemaids.

Homemaking can be a thankless job — no salary, no perks, no retirement benefits (no retirement!), and, sometimes, no gratitude either. All too often, her children, the ones who most acknowledge her contribution, leave home when they find wings, and the homemaker is left wondering if she has accomplished anything at all. The truth is that she has kept the family and the household anchored, but since this does not get acknowledged, it becomes a sorry state of affairs.

More tiresomely, people tend to take her for granted, assuming that since she doesn’t go to work, her time is up for grabs. “I hate it when relatives say ‘Oh, we can ask Shilpa to take care of these chores, she is not working’ or ‘How can Shilpa not come to this function, she is free, she is not a working woman’. Can’t they see that I need my personal time too, and that I can make personal choices too?” moans Shilpa. “Just because I take care of the housework, it doesn’t mean that people can dictate terms to me.”

And then there are husbands who offload their personal chores to their homemakers saying: “I work so late into the night, can’t you do even this for me?”

Move over to TV time. “Can’t I choose the TV programme now; after all, you’ve had the TV all to yourself the entire afternoon,” some tell the homemaker. True, the TV was free. But what was there to watch? After all, afternoon is not primetime.

The siesta myth

“Lucky Shantha, she gets to nap in the afternoon,” aunt Lakshmi says. Can’t aunty see that Shantha wakes up at the crack of dawn so that breakfast is on the table and lunch is packed by 7.30 a.m.? Doesn’t she deserve a nap to counter the hours of sleep that she has foregone early in the morning, as the rest of the family remains cuddled up in bed? Anyway, what siesta?

“There are so many errands to be done — groceries and other purchases, bills to be paid, bank work, school meetings, complaints to the State utilities, repair work, coordinating with the gardener, plumber, iron-man, tailor? And, when I’m back, it seems like every 15 minutes, the doorbell rings, to bring in letters, couriered parcels, newspaper and other bills, the gas cylinder, salesmen, visitors, and others,” Shantha points out. In fact, her friend Hema has advised her to take up a job, saying: “A job can take the stress out of you”.

It’s time homemaking was recognised as a profession — a noble one at that. A minimum wage can be declared, complete with a weekly off, leave benefits, and the rest of the goodies that those at offices get.

That seems a far cry, but till then, let us spare homemakers the ignominy of being described as ‘not working’.

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