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What does Bill Gates washing dishes at home say about women in Indian economy?

. 3 min read . Written by Roopal Kewalya
What does Bill Gates washing dishes at home say about women in Indian economy?

I came across an article yesterday saying that even after 25 years of marriage, Bill and Melinda Gates still wash dishes together every night and this is the reason their marriage is still going strong.

Bill Gates worked hard to build Microsoft. And Melinda Gates admitted that she felt very lonely in those years while he was busy setting up his business. During this time, the major responsibility of the home and kids fell on her shoulders while the world was getting to know the Harvard dropout, Bill Gates.

Picture this. What would have happened if Bill Gates had not succeeded? And what if he had failed at setting up this massive empire? Would Melinda’s sacrifices also have gone to waste? I think not. She would have still set up a home. And she would have still raised children along with providing the emotional and mental support to her husband – a key thing that every entrepreneur needs in their journey of setting up a business. Bill Gates and his business thrived due to the environment that Melinda Gates created for him, to be nurtured.

Recently, on the most expensive divorce between Jeff Bezos and his wife, Twitterati criticised MacKenzie Bezos asking her why she needed to stake a claim on Jeff Bezos’ billions. Many people lashed out saying she was the reason he could build that empire. And that the billions only came because of her sacrifices of raising four children and pretty much running everything else other than her partner’s fledgling business that Amazon once was.

It makes one question. What does an entrepreneur need? Primarily, a support system. Physical, mental and emotional. While the entrepreneur carries the weight of the biggest ball on those able shoulders, there is at least one person at home juggling many different balls, excelling at chaos management- their own, their partner’s and their families’ so that one person can go out there and chase their dreams.

It takes an entire ecosystem to nurture a business.

Forget about a business, stepping out of the home to work for an earning requires a domestic help (mostly female) to clean the house and sometimes, even cook. If the employed person has children then there is the need for a mother/mother-in-law to look after those children. A lot of times that is accompanied by a caretaker for the child, again primarily female. Multiply this number by a few billion and you will find that in Indian economy, there is each household where women unforgivingly carry out the unpaid and unrecognised labour.

In response to the Economist’s report that if women started working as much as men in India, the economy would be 27% richer, writer and activist, Shailja Patel remarked, ‘Women do work in India. Far harder and far longer than men. Their work is just unpaid, undocumented, and excluded from GDP calculations. If women *stopped* working in India, the country would collapse.

While the headline pointed at the need for women in Indian economy to be a part of the labour workforce, the choice of words was dehumanising, to say the least. While Mackenzie Bezos and Melinda Gates ‘got paid’ for their labour behind the scenes, there are many women who support the Indian economy without actively participating in it. By not recognising their work as ‘work’ is almost akin to making them invisible in the eyes of the economic history of the nation.

With the first female Finance Minister of the country, Nirmala Seetharaman rolling out the budget today, there are high expectations. A big move towards moving India from the informal unorganised work sector to a formal economy would be to quantify the unpaid labour that women of the country engage in, day in and day out.

I wonder how many years it would have taken Bill Gates to start washing the dishes at home.

There is no concept like a self-made man. It takes an army of women and men to give birth to a self-made person. Once we quantify the unpaid labour, the next move is to bring women in Indian economy to the workforce. And once we do that, we need to encourage women and provide the same nurturing ecosystem for women entrepreneurs to flourish.

Because let’s be honest. If I ask you to close your eyes and say the word ‘entrepreneur,’ who comes to your mind? A man? Or a woman?