Chained To Home, 1 In 2 Urban Indian Women Vulnerable To Violence, Lose Earning Opportunities: Survey

The lockdown may be over but it continues for many women across Indian homes; one wonders what impact it has on the lives of these homemakers doing invisible labour.

Trigger Warning: This speaks of mental health issues, anxiety, depression, suicide, domestic violence, and financial dependence, and may be triggering to survivors.

From waking up early before her family members to cook breakfast and get the kids ready for school, to helping her husband get ready for work and then making lunch. Doing the dishes, washing clothes, cleaning the home, receiving kids from school, helping with homework, preparing their snacks, then waiting for the family to get home and preparing dinner. A typical Indian woman’s housewife’s day is full of household chores and duties.

So it doesn’t come as a shock when a report by the Time Use Survey by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, 2019 shows that 50% of Indian urban women don’t leave the house even once a day burdened by domestic chores. This has both short-term and long-term effects on their lives and health, and also takes away from opportunities they can have for paid work and financial independence.

Chained to domesticity?

Caught in domestic shackles and busy in the humdrum of everyday chores and duty a woman loses the basic pleasure of stepping out of the home. Indian women even today need a solid reason to step out of the home whereas the men don’t. Women are still answerable for their whereabouts to their families whereas men are not.

Where then is the space for her dreams, thoughts, aspirations to become reality. At the point does she even remember she had any? Does she remember the little girl who was full of hopes and dreams for herself? Growing up her parents pampered her and told her she can be whoever she wants only to be married off at a young age to be a homemaker.

It was during the Covid lockdown that staying at home became the great equaliser where all family members were confined to the house chipping in the household chores. There were YouTube videos circulating of Indian men (especially of the older generation)  trying to do housework for the first time in their lives. We laughed and were entertained by watching clueless husbands trying to find their way in the kitchen. And yet it is sad too that household work is still seen as the woman’s domain that men step into reluctantly.

The lockdown may be over but it continues for many women across Indian homes. Women who are confined to the house reliving the groundhog day life of daily chores and no time to step out. One wonders what impact it has on the lives of these housewives doing invisible labour. She can suffer from many ailments due to staying indoors and social isolation, be it health issues, loneliness and depression etc.

Impact on mental and physical health of these women

Staying indoors all the time does have an adverse effect on one’s mental and physical health leading to a feeling of isolation and loneliness. According to a study conducted by the National Academies of Sciences, social isolation has been linked to a significantly increased risk of premature mortality from all causes. This includes a 50 percent increased risk of developing dementia; a 29 per cent increased risk of incident coronary heart disease; a 25 per cent increased risk for cancer mortality; and a 32 percent increased risk of stroke.

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Staying cooped up at home, just tirelessly doing household chores has other adverse impacts as well, especially on the woman’s mental health. This can be clearly understood by the alarming suicide rates among Indian housewives.

According to the most recent National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, housewives also made up the second-highest percentage of all suicide victims in India behind daily-wage workers. Although overall more men die of suicide than women, when one specifically looks at the causes of female suicides, the majority come under “marriage related issues” such as dowry related problems, infertility and family troubles. In simpler terms, more than half of all female suicide victims were housewives, making up 14.1% of all suicide victims.

According to another study by Lancet that quantifies the prevalence of mental disorders in India, more Indian women than males experience depression and anxiety disorders, and women with depression commit suicide more frequently than men with depression.

The Lancet study further demonstrates the link between depression and suicide, which is more strongly associated with Indian women than with males and has been observed in numerous studies.

When taken as a whole, the message is clear that millions of Indian housewives probably experience depression, and if statistics are to be believed, thousands are becoming more and more inclined to commit suicide.

Impact of domestic violence on homebound women

Domestic violence in Indian households still remain a dirty little open secret.

According to the latest report by The National Family Health Survey (NFHS) a large scale, and multi round survey conducted in Indian households: “29.3% married Indian women between the ages of 18-49 years have faced domestic violence/or sexual violence. 3.1% of pregnant women between the ages of 18-49 have experienced physical violence during any pregnancy.” And that’s just the number of cases reported by women to the police.

Factors such as conservative societal norms, victim blaming, shaming, and fear of judgement all make a woman think twice before speaking up. Married women with children who are financially dependent on their abusive husbands find it the most difficult to leave. The lack of financial freedom and staying bound to household duties handicaps a victim of domestic violence from walking out from an abusive marriage. This not only affects her mental and physical health but also that of her children.

The lack of a strong support structure, fear of social judgement, and inability to provide for the child chain a housewife to physically and emotionally abusive marriage.

Lost opportunities for paid work

A country is usually known to develop faster when more women are in the workforce as it is seen as a boon to the economy. According to the World Bank figures, fewer than 1 in 5 Indian women work formally.

A working woman not only finds confidence and self respect through her work but also contributes financially to her family’s expenses. A two income household boosts a family’s position and helps gain better access in all areas of life such as education, health, ease of living, utilities etc. It also eases the burden off the shoulders of men, of looking after a family financially. However, despite India’s fast development, majority of Indians still have conservative views about a woman’s role in family life.

But when a woman is made to stay home and manage the house she loses the opportunity for paid work. She is tied up in unpaid labour which does not provide any real financial support to her or her family. She becomes a cog in the domestic wheel invisible to everyone.

Family becomes the first priority for a married woman especially if it is a joint family her obligations and duties are even more. She is expected to be the sacrificing, caring and nurturing mother figure of her family. Her dreams, achievements, and aspirations are forgotten for now she is married.

The bottom line remains that a family and a country cannot prosper if its women are trained from childhood to stay at home and only do domestic duties. It is time we stop glorifying women as domestic goddesses. We must give their aspirations and talents the respect that it deserves so they are not swept aside as yesterday’s unattainable dreams with the sweep of a broom.

If you or anyone you know is feeling depressed or suicidal, here are some of the helplines available in India. Please call. 
Aasra, Mumbai: 022-27546669
Sneha, Chennai: 044-2464 0050
Lifeline, Kolkata: 033-2474 4704
Sahai, Bangalore: 080-25497777
Roshni, Hyderabad: 040-66202000, 040-66202001
SPEAK2us – Tamilnadu 9375493754

Image source: a still from the short film Juice

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