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11 Jul, 2024

Women’s Day Off

Author: Ragini Puri, Strategy Executive- Care Economy Solution Incubator at PCI India

In October 1975, women all over Iceland went on strike to protest the gender pay gap. When the strike was first suggested, Icelandic men did not take the idea too seriously. However, industries ranging from telecommunications to banking suffered as they functioned at half-capacity. Men had to take their children to work as women refused to perform childcaring activities, and schools and nurseries remained shut as they mostly employed women.

On October 24, 1975, women across Iceland went on strike to demonstrate the importance of their labour, both professional and domestic. Known as kvennafrídagurinn, or Women’s Day Off, some 90% of Icelandic women participated in the labour action.

from the archives of Iceland Review

In November 1980, Iceland’s Vigdis Finnbogadóttir became Europe’s first democratically elected female president, citing 1975’s “Women’s Day Off” as a direct influence on her political career. For the last fourteen years, Iceland has consistently ranked first in the Global Gender Gap Index, i.e. it is the country with the least gender gap.

Gender and Care Work in India

India has consistently ranked in the bottom 50 of the Global Gender Gap Index. In 2019, India’s Time Use Survey (TUS) found that in the working age of 15-59 years, women spend 5.6 hours (23% of a 24-hour day) on unpaid care work daily, compared to 30 minutes (2.08% of a 24-hour day) spent by men. The survey also found women engaged in the workforce regularly experience the double burden of balancing paid work and unpaid care work responsibilities. 93% working women performed unpaid care services for household members compared to 31% working men. All this to say, are Indian women due to take a day off? Findings from the TUS certainly say so.

Given that almost 82% of women’s labour in India is concentrated in the informal economy, what would a “day off” even look like? Gendered social norms around caregiving designate it as the domain of women. For a postcolonial nation like India, these norms create an atmosphere where unpaid servitude is the ultimate virtue for women. This explains the wide gap between working men and working women performing unpaid domestic duties.

With the precarious position of gender equality in India, performing unpaid care labour allows women to earn crucial social currency.

Economist and author Shrayana Bhattacharya writes,

“Our institutions…ensure that men and women inhale what society expects of them…Men must earn money and women must earn love.”

In the absence of monetary compensation, respect and influence within the family are on offer for caregivers. One would assume when the caregiver moves into the role of breadwinner, these rewards automatically become entitlements. Unfortunately, this process gets skewed due to gendered notions of women as caregivers and men as breadwinners. When these roles are challenged, women end up with the double burden of earning money in the public sphere and love in the private sphere. In contrast, for men, earning money in the public sphere secures their baseline of receiving love in the private sphere.

The numbers tell us that Indian women deserve a day off. But would the consequences be worth it?

Perhaps the question we should be asking is whether Indian women, if given the option, would take a day off at all.


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Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC), Ashoka University

The Centre for Social and Behaviour Change is a leading Indian institution that drives behavioural change measures for people and communities in need.

Project Concern International (PCI), India

Project Concern International, India has been working since 1998 to co-create and scale sustainable solutions to complex development problems rooted in community realities .

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