The Weekend Nation edition of November 8, 2014 carried a story titled ‘Should housewives be paid’ in which the writer argued that husbands should pay their wives for the trouble the women take to run a home. The story emphasised that such action would elevate the women’s position in the home by economically empowering them and giving them things that usually implies the greater importance of bread winners in the home.
I would like to commend the writer for bringing up the issue of the need to recognise the enormous work that women play in the homes.However, I strongly feel that the solution does not lie in the husband’s payment of salary to the wives.
Firstly, it is a fallacy that the husbands’ payment of wages to wives will enhance the women’s contributions to family income. In paying the wife from the husband’s earnings, the family will just be redistributing its already existing income in the home and this cannot, in any way, enhance the household income. We have to know that if the value of unpaid housework is paid, but does not add to or increase the total household income, such remuneration amounts to nothing. Only if the source of the salary is from external, for instance from government, can this yield to increased family earnings.
At a time when society is already grappling with increased cases of domestic violence, a proposition for the husband to be remunerating their wives can only exacerbate the situation. We need to understand that if a woman is paid for the chores that she does at home, she can also be dismissed for unsatisfactory performance and no divorce will be needed. The husband – wife relationship will disintegrate and usher in the employer – employee relationship, making the sanctity of family lose worth, hence prompt unmatched domestic violence. This is why I find the suggestion very demeaning to the women as it reduces them to glorified housemaids.
What is needed in the homes are loving husbands who believe in equality and the empowerment of their wives. We need spouses who can support each other in pursuing economic opportunities outside the home either through employment or entrepreneurship. Largely, we need husbands who do not feel threatened by their wives’ economic pursuits, but encourages and supports the wives’ socio-economic independence.
The government should create economic opportunities for women outside the home by among other things, enhancing women’s accessibility to financial services; providing skills, especially vocational and technical; ensuring availability of markets and information through targeted and comprehensive women economic empowerment programmes. Additionally, a women enterprise fund can be established to support women to start or expand businesses for wealth and employment creation. Kenya can provide learning points.
These economic initiatives should be complemented by the provision of social services and facilities that minimise housework for women so that they can step out of the home to earn, enhance family incomes and have greater say in family as well as public matters.
The longterm solution lies in the strategic investments in girls’ education, elimination of child marriages, eradication of stereotypes that degrade women, and the institutionalisation of policies that promote equal access to post-secondary education and employment. Both boys and girls should not drop out of school and should be exposed to vocational skills while young in order to nurture their creativity and innovation, a critical resource in unlocking economic opportunities.
More than salaries from husbands, women need employment and empowerment. The payment of salaries is not only demeaning but also cements the idea of subservience rather than equality. On the worse, it makes the women more of commodities or servants for men.
The author is a Malawian who likes to comment on social issues.