Wednesday, 9 January 2013


Knowledge is based on experience and experience is never gender neutral. Hence it is imperative that any body of knowledge must be inclusive of the experiences of the entire human population. Looking at the experience of only one half of the human race leads to the generation of fractional knowledge. Economics is a victim, so to say, of such partial knowledge, much of its analysis being largely a reflection of men’s experiences and an echo of men’s voices. In short Economics is largely androcentric and has been profoundly prejudiced by the ‘high value’ masculine attitude. This is evident from the very assumptions in the subject which is then bolstered together by male centered methodology.

Economics is based on the concept of cut throat competition and is obsessed with the profit motive. The classical writers like Adam Smith defined the capitalist market system and spoke vividly about the market mechanism which was termed the operation of the ‘invisible hand’…well the title of my article however does not suggest the working of this invisible hand (which is nothing but the price/market mechanism) which drives every decision in the jungle of wild competitors. What I intend to highlight is the working of the invisible economy which operates because of the invisible hands that drives it. No one sees them work - a population largely taken for granted, sidelined and under-represented in the national income accounts. Well I mean none other than THE WOMAN.
Since much of women’s labour is not marketed and economics specializes in the market economy, they get sidelined. They “labour for love” and this labour cannot be monetized. However the very fact that women work in this manner enables the man to be the bread winner. This however is not recognized. If these women did not exist or did no such labour out of love all household work like cooking caring cleaning (the therefore three Cs), or work such as provisioning for food fodder and fuel(the three Fs) would have to be paid for. Technically speaking therefore women are providing what one can term as LMC or Lifetime Maintenance Contract for their families. If it were not for the social costs they bear it would become extremely expensive for the man to be the breadwinner. In the real world there is a constant interplay between the production economy and the economy concerned with rendering reproduction, care and human welfare. Diane Elson has fittingly defined this, “we have two economies: the economy in which people earn wages in order to produce things to be sold on the market or financed through taxation. This is the economy based on goods, which every one considers ‘the economy’. On the other hand we have the veiled economy, the invisible one, the one devoted to care” What separates the two economies is the fact that domestic work is tremendously unwieldy to compute. Such work is generally carried out by girls and women inside the house and is only indirectly connected to the market. It is synchronized by ideologies, traditional, cultural and religious norms and of the society and is not assigned any pecuniary value. Household work is largely indivisible and not paid for. Indivisibility is coupled with patriarchal ideologies wherein only women are allocated the responsibility of providing the nurture and maintenance of the household. All such work which forms the major part of the embodiment of human capital is not accounted for at all - after all it is embodiment that flows from love, and love will not remain love if it is monetized!!!
Further even if they work for wages it is largely in the unorganized sector where again there are lacunae in the counting of the work done by them. Women hence get left out since much of their labour is contributed to the unorganized sector. It is non remunerative as there is an abundance of such labour available to perform such tasks freely. Very often women are the major or the only breadwinners in their families. However the meaning of the term worker tends to omit part time and seasonal workers, hence such women get counted out. These women are therefore veiled in data as portrayed by Ela Bhatt when she coined the term ‘Statistical Purdah’ to explain how women workers are under counted by the census and NSSO operations in India. These are the invisible hands in reality!! Not the market mechanism as promulgated by Adam Smith! Women’s work has always been looked at as secondary. Workers who earn just pin money. Yet without this contribution many a home will crumble under the yoke of insufficient finance. Many a home will come to a stand still if these invisible hands stop working! But ‘love’ will not stop these hands! Should I say love that is voluntary or love that is imposed artificially by moral cultural and traditional codes!
For most people and also the average enumerators women normally are housewives even if they work outside their homes for wages. Though the Census the NSSO and the ILO have widened the definition of the worker to include many tasks done by women, yet the mindset of such officials and policy makers needs total overhauling! There has to be the consciousness within these data office workers, as well as theorists and policy makers to recognize and accept women as equally productive workers. There has to be a revolution in the thinking process of both men and women.
If the working of the invisible hand is extolled on a pedestal in the Smithian system, is it not just and fair that these INVISIBLE HANDS are also duly recognized, for the work they do to keep the cogs of the economy functioning smoothly?

Dr. Crystal David John
Post Graduate Head
Dept. of Economics
Stella Maris College
Chennai 600 086