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Health care: India owes Rs 1.75L cr a year to its stay-at-home moms

Globally, the study found that women’s contribution to healthcare was over $3 trillion, which is 2.35% of global GDP for unpaid work and 2.47% of GDP for paid work.

Women in Indian homes are primarily responsible for healthcare of children, sick, disabled and elderly family members. In a first financial valuation of such work, which is unpaid and largely invisible, a team of healthcare professionals has worked out that it is worth about $38 billion or Rs 1.75 lakh crore. That’s about 2.2% of the GDP in 2010 which is the base year used. Men’s contribution to unpaid domestic healthcare work in India was estimated at $9.6 billion or about Rs 43,000 crore.

Globally, the study found that women’s contribution to healthcare was over $3 trillion, which is 2.35% of global GDP for unpaid work and 2.47% of GDP for paid work.

The study was done by the Lancet Commission on Women and Health, set up by the medical journal Lancet and published in it recently. The Commission, led by Ana Langer, professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, studied 32 countries including India, China, several European countries and some from Africa and the Americas. These countries together have 52% of the world’s population.

Traditionally, paid healthcare work is dominated by women except among doctors. Nurses, midwives, community health workers are predominantly women. In families too, the bulk of caring for children’s health and looking after the needs of sick members, disabled or elderly is women’s responsibility. This work is unpaid and not accounted for in large economic calculations like the GDP.

A gender based division of work based on the ideology that women should be confined to the domestic world, and lack of job opportunities outside the home are the twin factors behind health and care work largely falling upon women’s shoulders, explains Ravinder Kaur, professor at IIT Delhi.

“Care is seen as a feminine attribute and duty; women are socially constructed as being able to provide emotional and care services. Care is therefore considered as a non-market good that need not be compensated for monetarily,” she told TOI.

A study done by Rajni Palriwala, professor of sociology at Delhi University, and Neetha N of the Centre for Women’s Development Studies had shown there is a direct relationship between time spent in care work at home and time spent on jobs outside the home. The more time a woman spent working out of home, the less time she spent on health and care work at home. But even when working outside of their homes, women still spent more time than men on domestic duties, including healthcare of family members, the study found.

The Lancet study has used data from the only Time Use Survey ever conducted in India, which was in 1998-99. It showed women spent on an average 3.2 hours per week looking after sick family members, disabled or elderly compared to 0.75 hours spent by men. This kind of difference appears to be a global norm, irrespective of whether a country is rich or poor. Thus, in Norway, women spend 2 hours per week compared to 0.74 hours spent by men in domestic healthcare. In the UK, women spend 2.19 hours compared to 0.71 hours by men. In China, women spend 2.93 hours on health and care at home while men spend 0.82 hours.

With the proportion of elderly rising across the world, and institutional health costs rising, it is likely that the time spent by women on caring for the sick at home would have gone up since India’s last time use survey, says Kaur. Declining employment opportunities for women in India in recent years would also have pushed up their share of domestic work.


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