Do Housewives Have a Price?

I will be master of what is mine own;
She is my goods, my chattel; she is my house,
My household stuff, my field, my barn,
My horse, my ox, my ass, my anything;
And here she stands, touch her whoever dare.
 - William Shakespeare, English dramatic poet (1564-1616) in Taming of the Shrew.
In the aftermath of the tragic air crash at Bajpe airport, near Mangalore, when the dust settled and grief subsided, the current topic of concern is the compensation for heirs of the dead and injured. One thing stood out like a sore thumb. Those who did not have a proper job, with an appointment or promotion letter or monthly salary slip, would lose out in the compensation game. This mainly includes housewives who had gone to the Gulf for a holiday or to look after their working husbands. They have no salary slips and their work is not monetized. As an anonymous epigram says, “Housework is what a woman does that nobody ever notices unless she doesn’t do it”.
O opportunity, thy guilt is great!
‘Tis thou that executest the traitor’s treason;
Thou set’st the wolf where he the lambs may get;
Whoever plots the sin, thou ’point’st the season;
‘Tis thou that spurn’st at right, at law, at reason.
It is again Shakespeare, in The Rape of Lucrece, hinting at the dark side of opportunity. Some see opportunity in the distress of others. Like vultures swooping down on rotting carcass, ambulance-chasing American lawyers, with opportunistic lawyers from Bombay in tow, have descended on the kin of Mangalore crash victims offering enhanced compensation, through court action, for hefty cut in the booty, if they are allowed to process their cases. At the heart of their temptation are housewives without any documents to prove their earnings or potential. This is all because there have been no computations of prospective earnings of the back-breaking work done by housewives, without any limits on working hours. Now the Supreme Court of India has entered the scene and has frowned on this deficiency and has asked the government to remedy the situation through laws and rules in this regard. First, the facts of the case.
In the case that provoked the Supreme Court to pass the judgment, appellant Arun Kumar’s wife Renu Agarwal died, aged 39, in a road accident in Uttar Pradesh. The Motor Accidents Claims Tribunal awarded Rs.2,5 lakh in compensation and the Allahabad High Court confirmed this order by dismissing the appeal. The SC appeal was directed against the judgment. The court allowed the appeal and enhanced the compensation to Rs.6 lakh with a 6 per cent interest from the date of filing of the petition till the date of payment, which should be made within three months. The court also awarded the appellant Rs.50, 000 in costs. More than the specific relief to appellant, the judgment per se, excerpted below,   has far-reaching implications.
Holding that the valuation of the income of the homemaker as one-third of the of the income of the earning spouse is not rational while computing compensation in cases of motor accidents claims, the Supreme Court has asked Parliament to revisit the provisions to the value the services of homemakers properly. A  Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and  A.K. Ganguly, in separate but concurring judgments, on July 22, 2010 expressed anguish that despite a clear constitutional mandate from Article 15 (1) to eschew discrimination on grounds of sex, there was a distinct gender bias against women, in the implementation, and various welfare legislation and judicial pronouncements.
“The time has come for Parliament to have a rethink on properly assessing the value of homemaker’s and householders’ work and suitably amending the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act and other related laws for giving compensation when the victim  is women and homemakers. Amendments to matrimonial laws may also be made in order to give effect to the mandate to Article 15 (1) of the Constitution,” the Bench said. “ Women are generally engaged to homemaking, bringing up children and also in production of goods and services which are not sold in market but are consumed at the household level.

Thus, the work of women mostly goes unrecognized, and they are never valued.” He said the bias against women was shockingly in the work of the census. “In the census of 2001, it appears that those who are doing household duties such as cooking, cleaning of utensils, looking after children, fetching water and firewood have been categorized as non-workers and equated with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners who, according to the census, are not engaged in economically productive work.  This approach of equating women, who are homemakers, with beggars, prostitutes and prisoners as economically non-productive workers betrays a totally insensitive and callous approach to the dignity of labour so far as women are concerned, and is indicative of a strong gender bias against women.”
Justice Ganguly said: “Though the census operation does not call for consideration in this case, but reference to the same has been made to show the strong bias shown against women and their work. We hope and trust in the on-going census operation, this will be corrected. Lack of sensitiveness and recognition of their work mainly contributes to women’s high rate of poverty and their consequential oppression in society, as well as various physical, social and psychological problems. Courts and tribunals should do well to factor in these considerations while assessing compensation for housewives who are victims of road accidents and quantifying the amount in the name of fixing ‘just compensation’.”

In this concurring judgment, Justice Singhvi said: “It is highly unfair, unjust and inappropriate to compute the compensation payable to the dependants of the deceased wife/mother, who does not have regular income, by comparing her services with that of a housekeeper or servant or an employee who works for a fixed period. The gratuitous services rendered by wife/mother to the husband and children cannot be equated with the services of an employee, and no evidence or data can possibly be produced for estimating the value of such services.”
Women, as housewives have been lulled into complacency by flattering references to them like behind every successful man there is a woman. John Milton, English writer (1608-1674), for instance, said :

Nothing lovelier can be found
In women, than study household good
And good works in her husband to promote.
Even Shakespeare has a take on the status, or lack of it, of housewives in Othello:

You are pictures out of doors,
Bells in your parlours, wild-cats in your kitchens,
Saints in your injuries, devils being offended,
Players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds.
If you think that these are foreign perception of women or housewives, this quotation from Thomas Munro (later Sir) in a dispatch as administrator in the Salem region (circa1792) to the Madras headquarters of East India Company, on the reasons why some could not pay land tax is a pointer: “… a third tells me that he cannot afford to pay his usual rent because his wife is dead; she used to do more work than his best bullock”. Nowadays, the comparison is to a donkey or a mule - the beast of burden with empty upper storey. The ransom of young brides, dowry, is widely discussed and computed. But, no one has stopped to think of their silent contribution, as housewives, to the success of the family and homestead.
But, the question of  pricing services was perhaps first raised by Thomas Hobbes, English philosopher and writer (1588-1679): “The ‘value’ or ‘worth’ of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power. “ And man used his power to use women for free. And they mocked at the helplessness of women in the face of power, as noted by George Crabbe, English poet (1754-1832):

Oh! t’is a precious thing when wives are dead,
To find such numbers who will serve instead:
And in whatever state a man be thrown,
‘Tis that capacity they would wish their own.
According to a report in London Times (March 15, 1807), Sir Robert Walpole, English statesman, speaking in the House of Commons, said: “I know the price of every man in this House except three”. That was in the context of corruption. Do we know the price of our housewives? Shouldn’t they put a price on themselves as the doctors, lawyers and chartered accountants do? They should rise in revolt as they have nothing to lose except mops, brooms and rolling pins. As Milton would have said, “Awake, arise or be forever (remain) fallen!”
John B. Monteiro, author and journalist, is editor of his website (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).

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By John B. Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • Merlyn, Australia

    Sat, Aug 21 2010

    Very thought provoking article Mr are indeed correct, legally there is no value for the invaluable work. In the West,it is called Home Duties or Homemaker. I love the use of your quotes and references to poets..thanks

  • steve, Sharjah

    Wed, Aug 18 2010

    Remember life partners, If you curse your partner mean you are cursing yourself. Eve was in Adam and God brought her out of Adam not from Monkey. If Adam punish or curse Madam Eve mean he is cursing himself. This comments by Lillie is purely based on selfish interest. What we say if a husband sits at home without job and he will be called househusband? I think why women make issue out of nothing? Why this kind of mindset we have? Why men should call housewife? This thought society has given and now we can change with love not with stick. Women has been known for LOVE but these days it is difficult to say.

  • Lily D'silva, Mumbai

    Tue, Aug 17 2010

    Well written article, Let this open the minds of narrow minded men. A woman in all form a daughter/sister/wife/mother serve the man and no price can be tagged to her services. Woman is a part of a man which is fogotten in this world. "woe to you man"

  • steve, Sharjah

    Tue, Aug 17 2010

    Who says housewife? Why man should say Housewife? She is his wife and she stays at home does not mean she become housewife. It is society a men’s mentality and writer elaborated on women’s folded story. Will somebody say office wife if she devoted to office? Rather saying all these why can they say unemployed or Husband status.

  • Cynthia D'cunha, Neerude-Abu Dhabi

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    Well said Uncle. Women's work inside the house, taking care of husband, kids.. school, kitchen etc... is not seen and recognised. Its valued only when she doesn't do it or her absence.

  • Langoolacharya, Belman/USA

    Mon, Aug 16 2010


    There is no higher designation anybody can acheive in this world than motherhood....

    "He maan teri surat se alag, Bhagvaan ki surath kya hogee".

    Please dont try to evaluate house wivess work with money or material....

  • A.S.Mathew, U.S.A.

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    Great and thought provoking article. In life, there are
    hundreds of blessings and services
    we receive every day, and nobody
    can put a price tag on it.

    When we come home tired, our
    children will jump over us with
    smile how much monetary value
    we can put on that affectionate

    Likewise, nobody can put a price
    for the great and affectionate
    service the housewives render for
    the rest of the family. Its worth
    is far greater than any other secular profession.

    But the question to be asked are
    they really getting the appreciation
    for the noble task they do?

  • adshenoy, mangloor

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    Can I say that this noblework is "PRICELESS". The term "housewife" is perhaps inappropriate and "home maker" would be my choice. The governments must recognise this valuable work and proper benefits given to the household in terms of tax breaks on husbands income or vice versa.
    Today, everyhead is counted as a tax base for governments particulary in the western countries and are encouraged to go to work leaving aside children's care to the public outfits like day care.
    As more and and more women opt to work or have no choice to stay home, and the nuclear structure of modern life, this issue needs national attention, particularly in raising a family.

  • Ivan, Mumbai

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    A great article... it's very sad that work of housewives most of the times goes unnoticed...

  • Felix F.,, India/Ksa

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    What a fantastic thought, remembering housewives after the air crash not out of concern or love, but get monetary benifit.

    Why do housewives need to be priced...???

    Is it not enough, that they are being used by husband and children in every possible way, for thier selfish ends, while she is alive,

    and also you want to price her so that one can earn out of her, even after her death...????

    Is there any other reason to have a price tag for housewives..????
    It is certainly not in the interest or concen for the woman


    Mon, Aug 16 2010



    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    The job of a stay-at-home Mom is the hardest job in the world

  • prakash shetty, MANGALORE/DUBAI

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    yes this is really serious matter and notable to the concerned authority.there is price for work done by employees/businesmen but the service of housewife is priceless(precious).

  • Lavina Picardo, katpady,kuwait

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    yes its time to turnback & say thankyou for the selfless service providers in our homes whom we mostly take for GRANTED.Thank U Mr. Monterio for such a beautiful article.

  • ivan d'souza, dubai, u.a.e.

    Mon, Aug 16 2010

    a unique point referred by mr. monteiro for default in the present system of evaluating income of housewives . surely there is need for a change to the law in this regard.

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