Gender and Labour: Understanding Leisure and the Economy encompassing it
There has been a longstanding criticism across the globe against the measurement of Gross
Domestic Product (GDP) which excludes unpaid household work. According to Unpaid Care
Work for Women in India Report by Oxfam, it could contribute 3.5% to the GDP and out of
which women would constitute about 3.1%. To further disseminate this criticism,
understanding what unpaid work is and what it conventionally isn’t becomes crucial.
However, a matter of introspection that has to be carried out is how one has been perceiving
leisure with respect to unpaid and paid work.
The National Statistical Office recently conducted a ‘Time Use’ survey, first of its kind in 20
years. By using a sample of 450,000 people across the country, the data tries to measure how
we spend a day. Interestingly, the time spent by women doing unpaid work is 84% while men
account for a mere 6%. The data also collates that rural women spend an average of 125.75
minutes in leisurely activities while urban women spend about 163.25 minutes on it - not
extremely different even though the demographics pool in a lot of factors. Thus, one can infer
that in general, women in India do engage in leisurely activity during the day and also work,
paid or unpaid.
However, if one qualitatively assessed these numbers in a prevalent patriarchal setting, what
can we account as leisure? Some activities that are predominantly seen as family time can
also be assumed as unpaid work – be it stitching sweaters for children, cooking for a festival
or cleaning the house before the guests arrive; managing a household, say, even on a Sunday
could also be seen as a job, unpaid. And some assume that some of these activities are
hobbies or done for pleasure. Thus, the acknowledgement of unpaid work as leisure (often
unconsciously by women) has been influenced by the years of unspoken rules we have been
accustomed to. However, it does not nullify that it might be leisurely as well.
V Geetha, a feminist scholar, explains in her book Gender, how societal norms often dictate
the kind of labour we engage in and the idea of unpaid work is one such. A socio-
economically backward woman would take up a job to earn an income for the family and
thus, be economically empowered, and to a small extent, exert power in the family dynamics.
However, she might not do a job when she “achieves” a middle-class status in the society,
simply because the societal norms have “uplifted” her. Here, the idea of taking up a job is not
related to her empowerment, but is likely a familial decision. Even then, she is still point
percentage accountable for the paid work that defined her and the unpaid work she would
identify herself with, in the middle-class rungs.
Broadening the gender spectrum across the agenda of understanding work and leisure, one
can deduce that women are not the only marginalized section to be acknowledged and
understood in labour participation. Considering members of the LGBTQ+ community, one
must also address unorganized, paid work one might take up, which is seen as pleasure-
seeking and leisurely. Such a setting can be comprehended as the association of gender and
labour where gender becomes a foreground criterion, either due to stereotypes or because the
job demands so. Whether such work is leisurely or not is not a matter of debate for us if we
are not involved in the sector in any capacity. However, our prejudice that lets us decide
whether it’s leisurely or not enables gender to be socially scrutinized; one of the reasons why
LGBTQ+ members who are economically backward are further marginalized - termed as
double-discrimination. Here, the perception of leisure validates questioning the moral
purpose of work.
Thus, in certain instances, one of the convenient ways to secure a job would be by repressing
or asserting one’s sexual identity. The economic condition of a person and the desperation to
get a job can also determine whether one can or cannot express their gender publicly.
The mutual exercise of economic labour and gendered identities can be viewed as a pattern
that is not limited to the conventionally established problem statements of paid and unpaid
work. In examining the nuances of such systemic struggles, one would also find a need to
solve these issues. But these problems are often romanticized and defined before addressing
who can break these chains and who cannot, given that certain gendered sections are
vulnerable in societal spheres. Thus, keeping that in mind, one needs to perceive a system
where gender and labour exercise less control over each other as a focal point while
understanding labour/work and leisure.
Written by: Prerana N