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Why should being a housewife render a woman uninsurable, just because she is financially dependant on her salaried spouse?
Recently, I received a marketing call from one of the well-known life insurance companies. I had just quit my corporate job, after a lengthy career. And while I had taken out an insurance plan while I was working full time, I was looking increase my coverage and so, listened on.
The agent started asking me a set of initial questions about my age and occupation. The minute I mentioned that I was a homemaker however, he become apologetic and disconnected the call abruptly!
I was a little confused after the call, and then got a little angry. I felt like I was being discriminated against for being a homemaker. And I couldn’t understand why a homemaker’s life is less precious than that of a working person’s.
After all, the spouse who stays home looking after the house, the kitchen, the children and elderly parents, is more overworked and unpaid than their corporate counterparts. They don’t even get sick leave or paid holidays! And yet, they are considered as adding little economic value to the household.
Insurance companies in India are reluctant to cater to the homemaker category, which is largely made up of women. The reasoning behind this, is that term plans are only meant to cover the loss of earnings that occurs when the earning member dies. However, to me, this is counterintuitive, since housewives technically have the earning potential of a nanny, cook, caretaker, tutor and even business partner combined.
Think of it this way: in the absence of the housewife, the bread-winner of the family would need to employ additional domestic help to do the household chores normally performed by the wife. In addition, the husbands would also need to spend more time with the family to ensure things are running smoothly, which, in turn, would reduce their career prospects and earning potential.
Low-to-middle income groups will be the hardest hit in such cases.
There are numerous claims that women are not willing to spend money on insurance. According to the annual report published by IRDAI in 2019, women buyers accounted for only 32% of all life insurances bought. But what do you do when insurance companies do not even cater to a section of women population?
Insurers up-sell a variety of insurance plans for non-working women, under the guise of combining savings with the promise of a life cover. However, these plans typically have higher premiums and give very little benefits. Another way housewives can get life insurance, is by combining their insurance plans with that of their husbands, but such plans do not fetch a high coverage for women.
But there are winds of change that are blowing, albeit gently. What is largely unknown is that for more than half a century, the Indian courts have actually been calculating the value of unpaid household work and awarding compensations suitably to homemakers, in case of their untimely death. In a recent judgement directing the insurance company to pay equal compensation to the wife and husband who died in a road accident, the Supreme Court recognised that the value of the housewife is the same as that of the husband in the office. The Court stated that the homemaker’s duties ‘…contribute in a very real way to the economic condition of the family, and the economy of the nation, regardless of the fact that it may have been traditionally excluded from economic analysis.’
These are definitely encouraging signs, and require sustained dialogue and radical mind-shifts to ensure that women from all walks of life, earning salaries or not, are recognised for their hard work and treated socially equal.
In the meantime, even though there are limited options, it is imperative that women take adequate life and health insurance, as a first step towards financial independence.
Top image is a still from the Hindi movie, Lunchbox
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