Universally Invisible: Domestic Workers in India

May 2021 – Avani Chokshi is an Advocate and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation.

SEMINAR SERIES: This social reproduction seminar series is part of the Laws of Social Reproduction project led by Prof. Prabha Kotiswaran, and based at King’s College London and IWWAGE Delhi.

Feminist scholars have long demonstrated the invisibility of women’s reproductive labour, with feminist economists striving to get international agencies and national governments to redraw the “production boundary” to ensure the recognition of women’s unpaid labour. Today mainstream international institutions acknowledge that women’s unpaid labour hinders their participation in the formal economy, particularly in the Global South. Nonetheless, there remains an absence of commitment from states and international institutions to such systemic reforms. Anchored in the context of India, our project thus conceptualises women’s reproductive labour to include unpaid domestic work, but also abject forms of labour performed by women outside of the institutional domain of marriage and for the market, namely, sex work, erotic dancing, commercial surrogacy and paid domestic work. Drawing on feminist legal theory and deploying methodologies ranging from doctrinal case law analysis to ethnographies of women’s labour markets, this project problematises law’s jurisdictional boundaries over women’s reproductive labour and critiques the varied, even contradictory, legal regulation of reproductive labour as well as the misguided law reform initiatives that undermine women’s economic agency. Given the current interest, nationally and internationally, in unpaid care work, our project offers a timely intervention by proposing a holistic understanding of reproductive labour and exploring prospects for an alternate regulatory matrix to further women’s economic justice.

For more information about the project or to join the network, please email Prabha.kotiswaran@kcl.ac.uk. The Laws of Social Reproduction project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (under grant agreement No. 772946)

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