A homemaker’s worthIf their work was monetised, Nepal’s homemakers would be highest earners in most families
Subha Shrestha got married at 18 and became a mother at 21. A few years later, she was a struggling single mother trying to earn enough to raise her young son.
She had become the sole breadwinner of her family, and had to do all the unpaid household work as well.
“If you ask me, it is harder to be a homemaker than working outside the home,” says Shrestha.
Ask any Nepali: being a doctor or engineer is the most desired and respected profession in the country. A job in the military is regarded as being the toughest, and bank CEOs make the most money.
But what about homemakers? Most Nepalis do not even think of them in monetary terms. But maybe we should start putting a price tag on all the work ‘jobless’ women do at home.
According to salaryexplorer.com, an army officer in Nepal makes Rs66,500 a month on average. Salaries range from Rs30,600 to Rs106,000. And loksewajob.com pegs healthcare worker salaries at anywhere between Rs24,602 to Rs72,082.
A homemaker (or ‘housewife’ as we used to call them) makes no money at all. Women toiling away at home are not just underpaid, they are not paid at all.
Nepali Times tallied what an average Nepali middle-class full-time homemaker in Kathmandu would be earning if she were to be paid for all the work she does around the house. The total was Rs115,000 a month whereas a mid-level government official would have a monthly salary of only Rs45,000.
And this does not even include extra errands during occasional family gatherings, feasts and festivals where women end up doing all the work. Usually, the men sit around, drink, chitter-chatter and gossip about politics.
Moreover, we cannot even put a monetary value to the care a homemaker provides her family that no salaried help ever would, or could. For all this work, a homemaker does not expect anything in return, except love and acceptance.
Yet, the work of millions of Nepali women is not recognised, they are rarely anyone’s inspiration, and they are often overlooked by other career women.
Most women with regular jobs have the added burden of balancing home and work. But it is the effort of a homemaker that makes it possible for male members of households to take up a profession in the first place.
Oftentimes, homemakers have to eventually sacrifice their careers because they are needed at home. Every career-oriented woman has a mother or a sister at home to thank for her success.
Our society also ignores how it is the women who have to make all the adjustments after getting married: she has to leave her home and parents for an unknown household.
Homemakers work 24/7, they cannot complain, they get no breaks. They do not get annual leave. Public holidays are like any other day, and festival time means more work. There is no annual bonus, no pension. They do not have a sick leave.
Perhaps the most glaring inequality within most Nepali households is how mothers and grandmothers prepare all meals but are the last to eat, usually cold leftovers, and then have to do the dishes.
“I was free at my parent’s home, but having been married into a conservative family, it was really difficult for me to adapt,” recalls Shrestha, adding that she had to wake up at 3AM to finish all of her morning chores before heading out at 6AM to the store her husband’s family owned.
Shrestha was barely an adult herself at 18, and was caring for her sickly son with no financial support.
Her son had to be taken to the hospital frequently, sometimes twice a day. Her sisters who are also homemakers looked out for her and helped her set up a stationery store later.
Says her son Evan, who is now 21 years old: “All the credit for how I have grown up to be a good person goes entirely to my Mom.”
Shrestha herself is thankful for the life she has now with her son despite a lifetime of hardships.