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The lawyers argued that pandemic-induced restrictions and job losses disproportionately affected women in Uganda and worsened their poverty situation.
Working class husbands must pay their stay-at-home wives a monthly salary, a group of feminist lawyers from three of six East African Community (EAC) member states have said.
In a hybrid meeting held at Mestil Hotel in Kampala yesterday, the activists also asked EAC member states to enact a law providing mandatory compensation for family care work by women.
The proposal was immediately met with questions by, among others, accountant Noah Wasswa, about the ramifications and whether working-class women would as well pay their unemployed husbands caring for families.
In her submission, Ms Bigirwa Twasiima, a feminist lawyer and programme officer at Segal Family Foundation, argued that pandemic-induced restrictions and job losses disproportionately affected women in Uganda and worsened their poverty situation.
Many of the affected women are now doing house chores without pay, noted the Georgetown University law graduate.
“Whereas government has come up with a number of strategies to revamp the economy, it should do the same to revamp the informal sector which employs many women,” Ms Twasiima said.
Yesterday’s blended virtual-physical conference was organised jointly by Femme Forte, Groots and Masaai Women’s Development Organisation to examine care crisis and implications of Covid-19 on economic justice and unpaid care work.
Ms Esther Amati, a feminist lawyer and lead officer – extractives at Groots in Kenya, argued that women should be paid for taking care of children, the elderly, cleaning the house and taking care of their husbands, who go to work on a daily basis, among other services.
“Most women cannot contribute to the economic development of their country because they spend many hours at home doing unpaid work. This is the reason the majority of them do not own properties because they do not earn any penny,” she said, without reference to employed women.
She said other EAC countries should emulate Kenya that is considering a legislation on unpaid care work to ensure that all those, who do house chores, are paid some money at the end of the month or have their contribution counted in terms of wealth accumulated by their husbands.
The proposal prompted questions on why, and how much, a stay-at-home woman should be paid if there is a househelp paid by the working spouse.
Mr Wasswa, a chartered accountant and auditor at Deloitte LLP, said whereas the proposal is good, there are considerations that should be made, especially on how much a housewife should be paid and on whether every working husband will afford it.
“Will the wives also pay stay-at-home fathers in scenarios where it is the woman working. What about men who will argue that they have maids to do the house work? In that case how will the compensation for the housewife change?” he asked.
He added: “What about tax implications? The proposal will reduce the disposable income of men or the working partner. Will they get a tax deduction and instead have this on the stay at home spouse, or will companies be given a tax deduction if they choose to give employees a spousal allowance? Tax incentives can make the proposal more acceptable; otherwise, it will be met with a lot of resistance.”
Nonetheless feminist lawyers from Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania argued that typical housewives spend a lot of time at home doing chores that are unpaid yet their counterparts who do similar jobs outside homes, are paid.
In some developed countries, home-care is paid while some international organisations, including United Nations, offer compensation for spouses of their employees.
Proponents noted that without the care economy, the formal sector cannot do much as domestic workers, the majority being women, shoulder the burden on family care, giving formal workers space to go and do their jobs.
“As a society, if we recognise that the people who do our domestic work and unpaid care work are as important as we are to our formal employers, then we can easily drop the perceptions and culture-held norms towards care work as free or cheap and undeserving of minimum wage,” said Mr David Tumwesigye, a social protection specialist .
In a separate telephone interview, Ms Brenda Kukonza, the executive director of Women Human Rights Defender Network-Uganda, said that as they fight to end violence against women, this law should be put in place to protect women.
“We are the ones looking after men to go and work for the government; so, our contribution cannot be under-looked,” she said.
She added: “When you go to any hotel, you have to pay people for laundry and to have your clothes ironed, but when women do these things at home, they are not given anything.”