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Wages for housework: an Indian experiment - 8 December 2021

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Women in India spend up to 352 minutes per day on domestic work which is 577 per cent more than men (52 minutes) and at least 40 per cent more than the women in China (234 minutes) and South Africa (250 minutes) (OECD, 2017). Time-use data from 2019 gathered by the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) revealed that more than 80 per cent of women and girls above 6 years engaged in unpaid domestic work, compared to over a quarter of men. Unpaid domestic and care work is thus highly gendered and highly unequally distributed in India.

This has only been made worse during the pandemic as millions of women have lost their jobs and have had to shoulder the increased burden of unpaid work. Meanwhile this disproportionate burden of unpaid work on women is also presented as the primary reason for India’s low female labour force participation rate and as an obstacle to growth. Hence the call for the reduction, recognition, and redistribution of unpaid work in accordance with SDG 5.4.

In my talk I consider one set of initiatives to realise these goals of SDG 5.4 through the promise by several political parties to offer unconditional cash transfers to female headed households in the run-up to the 2021 state assembly elections in 5 Indian states. These election promises generated a vigorous debate amongst Indian feminists on whether these transfers had the radical potential to recognise women’s labour or were simply reinforcing gender stereotypes and were likely to result in greater demands for unpaid work. I offer a typology of the multiple forms that these proposals for recognising unpaid work have taken and assess their liberatory potential through the lens of feminist campaigns for wages for housework. I argue that arguments about their adverse impact for women are purely speculative and these schemes are instead a novel experiment that could change the landscape of policy initiatives in developing countries for realising SDG 5.4.

This event is being run in collaboration between the Department of International Development and the King's India Institute, and will take place in the Nash Lecture Theatre, with drinks in the Somerset Room.

If you are an external attendee from outside KCL, you must register for this event no later than 12 midday the day before. Please note that the events work on a first-come first-serve basis, so do come on time to ensure you get a spot.

About the speaker

Dr Prabha Kotiswaran is Professor of Law and Social Justice. She previously taught at SOAS. She received her undergraduate law degree in India from the National Law School of India University, Bangalore and then an LLM and SJD (doctorate) from Harvard Law School. She also practiced law at the New York law firm of Debevoise and Plimpton. Dr Kotiswaran’s main areas of research include criminal law, transnational criminal law, feminist legal studies and sociology of law.

Dr Kotiswaran is the author of Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor: Sex Work and the Law in India, published by Princeton University Press (2011) and co-published by Oxford University Press, India (2011). Dangerous Sex, Invisible Labor won the SLSA-Hart Book Prize for Early Career Academics and has been extensively reviewed by several law and inter-disciplinary journals.

Dr Kotiswaran is Notes Editor for the Indian Law Review (Taylor & Francis) and founding editor member of the Open Democracy Blog Beyond Slavery and Trafficking. She has been Senior Editor for Oxford Handbooks in Law Online, and on the Editorial Board of the Canadian Journal of Law and Society and on the advisory boards of the Jindal Global Law Review, Review of Women’s Studies (EPW) and the Indian Journal of Human Development. She is co-editor for the Routledge series on New Trajectories in Law. She was Co-Convener (with Peer Zumbansen) of the Transnational Law Summer Institute (TLSI) held in June 2015 and June 2016.

Her research has been funded by the AHRC, Leverhulme Trust, ESRC, European Research Council, the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and the Institute for Global Law and Policy, Harvard Law School. Professor Kotiswaran was awarded the Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2014. Starting September 2018, she is PI for a five-year European Research Council-funded Consolidator Grant titled the Laws of Social Reproduction.

Professor Louise Tillin is Director, King’s India Institute and Professor of Politics. She joined King’s – and the then newly established King’s India Institute – in 2011.

Louise’s research interests span federalism, democracy and territorial politics in India, and the history and politics of social policy design and implementation. Her books include Remapping India: New States and their Political Origins (Hurst & Co/Oxford University Press, 2013), Politics of Welfare: Comparisons across Indian States, edited with Rajeshwari Deshpande and KK Kailash (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2015), and Indian Federalism (New Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2019).

Louise is a regular commentator on Indian politics in UK, Indian and international media. She is an editor of the journal Regional and Federal Studies, and an editorial board member of Pacific Affairs.


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