Women’s Unpaid Domestic Work Also Contributes to Economy: Prof. Rabin Deka

Prof. Rabin Deka, Head of the Department of Sociology of Tezpur University,

Prof. Rabin Deka, Head of the Department of Sociology of Tezpur University, (Assam) tells Education Post’s Tanay Kumar that the Indian middle class must renounce castebased prejudices for the sake of the country’s development.

Question QPlease tell us about your early education and reason behind opting for sociology as a career.

I studied in a primary school of a vernacular medium institution called Sonapani LP School, located in a remote area of the undivided Darang district (presently Udalguri district) of Assam. After completion of my primary education, I was admitted in the Paneri High School located near my village, where I studied up to high school. Then I moved to Guwahati’s Cotton College where I did my higher secondary schooling and graduation.

During my graduation at the Cotton College, I developed an interest in sociology but couldn’t choose any course in it as at that time, there was no course at the undergraduate level at Gauhati University. After my graduation, I moved to the University of Poona, Pune (presently known as Savitribai Phule Pune University).

Question Q

From the days of your graduation at Cotton College till date, how has the study of sociology transformed?

Sociology has emerged as one of the strongest disciplines in terms of teaching and research across the globe. Sociologists across the world have undertaken pathbreaking research on several issues of contemporary relevance such as environment, ecology and public health, poverty, global refugee crisis, gender issues, etc. These researches have significantly influenced both academia and public policy in the global context.

Since the advent of the 21st century, sociologists have transcended disciplinary boundaries by engaging with the larger audience, leading to the emergence of Public Sociology. As the renowned sociologist Michael Burawoy said, “Public sociology brings sociology into a conversation with the public.”

Question Q

What are the challenges that sociology as a branch of study is facing or might face in the near future?

The recent trend of higher education emphasizes skill-based, employment-oriented learning to cater to the need of the market. This suggests we need to accommodate the practical applicability of our teaching and research and equip ourselves with new materials and artifacts of learning. This possesses a crucial challenge in front of us to maintain the critical and reflexive nature of the discipline.

Question Q

Along with research, what are the opportunities for students willing to study sociology?

Sociology is an emerging discipline which creates multiple opportunities for the students of the subject, along with research. Sociology graduates are preferred by employers in several sectors, which include teaching and research institutions, social sector organizations, various government departments, public policy etc.

Question Q

In your observation, do you see some upsetting practices in your generation and the young generation (millennials and Gen-Zs)?

We observe several upsetting practices in our generation. Even many of the educated and so-called modern people of our society are still enslaved by patriarchal and caste-based prejudices. Look at the matrimonial section of our daily newspapers. Bride or grooms look for partners on the basis of physical appearance, caste, income, which injures the basic and universal human values.

The superstitious beliefs and practices even amongst many educated ones are a shame and prohibit us to promote scientific temper in society. When it comes to the young generation, it is alarming to see that they are addicted to smartphones and social media. Most of the times, they live in the virtual world, which will eventually affect their healthy social relationships, both inside and outside the family.

Question Q

India has a lot to catch up when it comes to gender equity and attain necessary numbers in women’s labor force participation. What can families, especially middle-class urban societies, do in their homes to contribute more toward gender equity?

Most of the urban middle and upper-class societies in metropolitan cities in India have advanced quite a bit in terms of material resources. However, it is observed that they are more concerned about their individual material gains and lack a progressive ideology. It is particularly reflected in marriages among urban upper-middle families. Right from the process of bride or groom selection to marriage rituals, caste-based practices that are followed, which might eventually lead to the emergence of a market-driven neo-patriarchy.

In order to contribute toward gender equity, the urban middle or upper-middle-class families will have to come out of these caste-based or patriarchal practices. Families coming from these strata of societies may also contribute towards sensitization on several discriminatory gender issues in and around their urban neighborhoods.

It is a good sign that a significant number of women living in Indian cities are working. However, the question remains whether their employment can empower them in key decision-making in the house and other matters. Until and unless urban middle-class working women assert their rights in the family decision-making process, the issue of gender equity will remain a distant dream.

Question Q

The Political Economy of Population Control and Women’s Reproductive Health was a research paper you wrote for Concept Publishing. Please share some examples you found in your research about the benefits of increasing female labor force participation in India’s economy.

Female labor force participation is an important factor for the growth and development of any economy. In fact, female labor force participation is crucial not only to promote inclusive growth but also to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 5 – “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.”

The scenario of India’s female labor force participation is far from satisfactory. In 2019, it was 19% which is lesser than the world’s average –25.1%. The situation has, however, improved over the last few years. As per official statistics, the Labor Force Participation Rate for males has gone up to 57.5% in 2020-21, as compared to 55.6% in 2018-19.

Female Labor Force Participation Rate has gone up to 25.1% in 2020-21 from 18.6% in 2018-19. This suggests that India has a significant gender gap. It is pertinent to mention here that India’s Female Labor Force Participation Rate is the lowest among the BRICS countries and also lower than some of its neighbors in South Asia, such as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

A study conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2018 revealed an alarming fact. Over 95% of India’s working women are engaged in the informal sector and they work in physically intensive, low-paying, highly precarious work environment, and with no social protection. Structural issues are dominant in these issues. Dropping out of school, marriage at an early age, lack of skill-based technical education, these factors compel women of socio-economically marginalized sections to join the informal workforce.

Another question remains regarding the measurement of work, along with employment. There is a strong need to broaden the measurement of work. As stated in the latest ILO standards, the definition of ‘work’ in relation to labor force participation is narrow, which only measures work as a market product. It does not include the value of women’s unpaid domestic work, which contributes significantly to the household’s standard of living and ultimately to the economy.


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