Valuing women’s work: Towards a convergence of own-account, waged, and unpaid care and domestic work?


The work performed by women is varied. Most women work on own-account in unincorporated household/family enterprises in India, while those engaged in paid, waged work are fewer. In addition, women also perform long hours of unpaid work in care and domestic work within the home. Recognising and valuing such forms of work performed by women remains a challenge. Family law in India often ignores the unpaid contribution of the wife/mother to the household when dealing with division of property at the time of divorce or upon the death of a spouse. Labour law, too, has grappled with assigning a value to the care and domestic work performed by women within the household. I examine if there can be a harmonization and convergence of the principles governing the valuation of women’s work across different domains of the law in India.

The speaker

Professor (Dr.) Kamala Sankaran is currently a Professor at the Campus Law Centre, Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, and has been teaching Constitutional Law, Jurisprudence and Labour Law.

Her research interests include constitutional law, international labour standards, and the regulation of work. Her recent books include Affirmative Action: A View from the Global South (Dupper and Sankaran eds.) (SunMedia, Stellenbosch, 2014) and Challenging the Legal Boundaries of Work Regulation (Fudge, McCrystal and Sankaran eds.) (Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2012).

Professor Kamala Sankaran has previously served as the Vice Chancellor, Tamil Nadu National Law University at Tiruchirappalli. She has been a Fellow, Stellenbosch Institute of Advanced Study, South Africa, Visiting South Asian Research Fellow, School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, Oxford University, and a Visiting Scholar and recipient of the Fulbright Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at the Georgetown University Law Center, Washington D.C.

She is a member, International Advisory Board, International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations; member, Editorial Board, University of Oxford Human Rights Hub Journal, member Editorial Advisory Board, Indian Journal of Labour Economics, and has served as Editor of the Delhi Law Review.

The 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. For more information about the project or to join the network, please email 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).

International Sex Workers’ Rights Day 2022

3rd March is International Sex Workers’ Rights Day. This day’s history goes back to 2001, when over 25,000 sex workers of India gathered in Kolkata for a sex worker festival organised by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, despite efforts from prohibitionist groups who tried to prevent it taking place by pressuring the government to revoke their permit. Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee strongly felt that sex workers should have a day which need to be observed by the sex workers’ community globally. Since then, sex worker communities across the world celebrate 3rd March as International Sex Workers’ Rights Day.

For more than three decades, we have been working for the rights of sex workers. To make the movement successful across the country, the All India Network of Sex Workers was set up by Durbar with an aim of improving the overall development of the nearly one crore sex workers and their dependent families across India.

The sex workers and advocates around the world organize protests, gatherings, film screenings, art shows, and lectures to raise awareness about human rights abuses which sex workers faces in their day to day life.

Since we want social and legal recognition in the sex trade, we do not want any minor or unwilling adult to enter the profession. That is why we have so far managed to remove about 1500 minors and unwilling adolescents from this profession through Self-Regulatory Board. Like other work, sex work is also a work. Durbar has developed networks with various labor organizations in India.

In 8th May 2021, our beloved Sir, Dr. Smarajit Jana, the founder of Durbar, has left us. However, he has taught us to fight and protest against injustice and to live with dignity. We will take our movement forward.

Our demands:

  • To change the provisions of the law in ITPA which is against the interests of sex workers.
  • To recognize sex work as work and include sex workers in labour law.
  • To recognize Self-Regulatory Board for prevention of trafficking at state and central level and provide financial grants through government departments for its expansion.
  • Stop extortion, snatching and police brutality in sex villages.

Today, on this special day, we oath to stop any unjust violence surrounding this profession. From 3rd March to 8th March 2022, we are uniting to establish equal rights for women of all walks of life, including sex workers, through various programs in all Red Light Districts of West Bengal, Kolkata. More than 65,000 sex workers and their children are working together to establish equal rights for women at all levels of society through various programs. By removing the boundaries of good and bad women, we want all women should have the same identity, they are just women.

You too can join us in this movement and strengthen our hands and fight against the oppression and injustice of sex workers.

Reframing the contemporary child marriage debate – Lessons from India

Recent legislative developments on child marriage in India come at a time when the national data shows declining prevalence and a shift from child to early marriage. Evidence indicates that poverty and insecurity within patriarchal contexts are the main drivers of early marriage, a fact corroborated by the reported spike in child and early marriage under continuing Covid pandemic. In wake of economic distress, job losses, closure of schools and complete suspension of learning for girls without digital means, the numbers of those in poverty have only increased. Such developments add to the urgency of addressing the underlying conditions that exacerbate the vulnerability of girls to early marriage. Yet, precisely at this juncture, the proposal to raise the marriage age of girls from 18 to 21 years is made.

Drawing on the studies by Partners for Law in Development (PLD) in its series on child marriage and adolescent sexuality, as well as the collaborative work of the National Coalition Advocating for Adolescent Concerns (NCAAC) and the wider civil society mobilization in India, the presentation traces the dangers of static child marriage narratives that obscure complex trends, and underplay the role of structural drivers. In national and global policy framing, child marriage discourse increasingly prioritises punitive legislative responses, without equal urgency placed on provisioning of opportunities and resources that expand life choices for girls from marginalized populations. In India and elsewhere, the emphasis on ‘age’ centric outcomes, propel deterrence measures that delay marriage, while diverting attention from welfare obligations to deliver quality education, health care, skill building and livelihood; as well as, safety, mobility, for girls, which are ultimately transformatory. The presentation outlines how the focus on punitive law obscures multiple intersecting concerns as well as structural drivers; it disempowers the young, rendering them more vulnerable to harm.

Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice

Abstract: Skimmed tells the story of the first recorded identical Black quadruplets, born in 1946 to Annie Mae Fultz, a Black-Cherokee woman who lost her ability to hear and speak in childhood and Pete Fultz, a tenant farmer in North Carolina. Annie Mae’s white doctor named the sisters after his relatives then auctioned off the rights to use them in marketing materials to the highest bidding formula company. The girls lived their entire lives in poverty, while Pet Milk’s profits from a previously untapped market of Black families skyrocketed. Jumping off from the Fultz sisters’ story, Skimmed analyzes why Black women in the U.S. have the lowest rates of breastfeeding. It explores how legal, political, and societal factors lead to ‘first food’ oppression.

Surrogacy Regulation is Stuck Between Market, Family and State

Through the years, India’s stand on surrogacy has varied from a medico-liberal to a carceral model, but the best safeguards for surrogates would be empowerment rather than relying on the market or the state for protection.

Law has long been the site of intense political, social and economic contest over women’s reproductive labour. Surrogacy is no exception. Over the past 15 years, numerous legislative drafts on surrogacy have been proposed, making India possibly the only country in the world to seriously consider all possible regulatory approaches to surrogacy ranging from a liberal, contract-based model in the late 1990s to a prohibitionist, carceral model in 2016.

Tracing the journey, and flaws, of the surrogacy bill

The government has tried to regulate surrogacy for over a decade. Starting with the permissive 2005 guidelines of the Indian Council for Medical Research, the government has proposed increasingly restrictive bills in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014 and has, through notifications of the ministry of home affairs, sought to exclude prospective parents on the basis of marital status, sexual orientation and citizenship. These efforts culminated in the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2016

Said to reflect the “ethos of the Indian people”, the bill, unlike in the past, dealt exclusively with surrogacy rather than with Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) broadly. It banned commercial surrogacy, only permitting altruistic surrogacy, that too performed by a close relative of the couple, where the latter bears the medical expenses and insurance costs.

What the new laws regulating fertility services in India say | In Focus podcast

Dr Prabha Kotiswaran speaks to us on whether the new laws protect the interests of couples who want a baby and of the women who would be egg donors or surrogates

This month, two bills dealing with fertility services have been passed by Parliament — the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill 2021, and the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill 2020.

The fertility services sector in India is huge, and has boomed over the last couple of decades. One estimate puts the number of infertile couples in the country at 27 million, while another estimate indicates that sector is worth thousands of crores. Over the last decade or so, there have been news reports of various kinds that have to do with the sector — from legal concerns over the custody of children, especially those born to couples from abroad or those whose parents separate, to the death of egg donors and several other issues that have arisen in the ethically complex world of assisted reproduction and the creation of a family.

The humpty-dumpty-esque tale of two laws

The Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha recently passed the Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulation) Bill, 2021 (ART) and the Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2021 (SRB). Both laws were once a consolidated law which sat on a wall like ‘Humpty Dumpty’ for years.

But in 2016, the nationalist rage against foreigners exploiting Indian women’s wombs led Humpty Dumpty to have a great fall. The SRB was introduced as a standalone law in 2016 leaving the ART to catch up.

New surrogacy law ignores the labour involved in pregnancy

Surrogacy has been in the news recently, most because of actor Priyanka Chopra. But this was
also the week that the Surrogacy (Regulation) Act (SRA), 2021 came into force. In an interview to Sunday Times. Prabha Kotiswaran, a professor of law and justice at King’s College, London who has extensively researched surrogacy laws in India, discusses the shortcomings of the law.

Unfair and Unjust-The Economic Rights and Entitlements of Separated/ Divorced Women in India

timelapse photo of train

ABSTRACT: The patriarchal Indian state has ensured that the economic rights and entitlements of separated women remain at a minimum. My study of these women surveys the conditions under which they live and to what extent they are able to access and benefit from the law which anyway gives them limited rights in their homes. It examines the living conditions of the surveyees after their separation and the obstacles faced by them and their children who often reside with them. It also looks at the work status and earning capacities of both the spouses, before and after the marriage, and the assets that these women own.

Though Indian women are governed by different personal laws according to the religious community they belong to, none of these laws provide them any rights apart from a limited right of maintenance (spousal support). In actuality, this right to maintenance does not provide women adequate financial support to be able to live in a manner to which they have been accustomed. The courts’ conservatism, the length of time cases take to be decided, and the lack of effective mechanisms to enforce the relief granted makes it extremely difficult for women to access this right. Meanwhile, they have no right to marital property which has been acquired during the subsistence of their partnership/marriage. Neither the Indian law nor government policy, views the work women do within the home as productive work or work of any economic value. Typically women, even working women, are forced to spend long hours in doing household chores and unpaid care work. The non-recognition of household work and “care” work results in reinforcement of gender discrimination and inequality.