This paper seeks to lay bare the contours and consequences of the relationship between paid work and unpaid care work for women in low-income households, in order to better understand the relationship between women’s participation in paid work and ‘economic empowerment’. It is also interested in analysing whether, and if so how, women (may) achieve a positive balance between their unpaid care work and paid work responsibilities such that their economic empowerment is optimised (women’s entry into paid work is enabled without deepening their time poverty or worrying about the quality of care received by their family), shared (across generations, so that other women/girls in the family are not left to bear the burden of care), and sustained (such that the quality of care provided to children improves as a result of their mother’s paid work). The paper seeks to do this by mapping the social organisation of care in low-income households across four sites in India, and assessing how women cope with their dual burdens. By focusing our analysis on two ‘women’s economic empowerment programmes’: the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) in Rajasthan and the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Madhya Pradesh, we also seek to analyse how women’s economic empowerment policy and programming can generate a
‘double boon’: paid work that empowers women and provides more support for their unpaid care work responsibilities.