The Working Woman – And What She Needs From The Indian Society

Posted on July 30, 2012 in Specials

By Anuva Kulkarni:

Amita is a thirty-four-year-old working mother, employed in a medium-sized software company.

My job is comfortable,” she says, when I asked her if she likes it here. “Its good for me, because I stay close by. And its not a very demanding job.

Amita’s four year old daughter jumps with joy when mummy comes back from work. But mummy then has to cook for five people, including her mother and father-in-law. Her mother-in-law grumbles about keeping the house and looking after the child all day, when these are clearly the duties of her daughter-in-law, the dutiful wife. Instead of lauding her for being a support to the family and for having her own career, Amita faces criticism and upturned noses at home. Thus besieged by guilt everyday, she stops thinking about herself or any advancement in her career, carrying on things as they are, only to one day quit her job and be a stay-at-home mom.

Not surprisingly, Amita’s boss does not give much importance to women employees in the company. His attitude towards men is markedly different from that towards women working for him. “We can’t send women on site unaccompanied. They are with us for a few months, then have to leave either for family commitments, or because of maternity leave. Women employees are a waste of resources, and we shouldn’t hire too many.” That’s his opinion.

If you are a woman, you are probably incensed at this. If you aren’t, you should be! If you’re a man, you’ve probably come across such a situation too. In a world that upholds equality of the sexes, such a situation of the working woman is a huge irony.

When she graduated from engineering school, Amita held in her hands something that could have fulfilled her dreams of having a successful career, sufficient income, and of being a woman of the world. Her engineering degree could have set her on the path of independence. This, of course, if she had had any such dreams at all. She chose the same path that thousands of women still choose — get married, get a job nearby, have children, forget career.

Why do so many of us make this choice? We have so many examples before us, of women who have risen to greatness — Indira Gandhi in politics, Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo, Marissa Mayer – CEO of Yahoo. They’ve got families, and children too (Mayer has announced that she is pregnant). But that never became an insurmountable barrier.

True, a balance of profession and family life is necessary, and women will always experience the dilemma more than men, because of the way in which human life has evolved over thousands of years. But why must we drown in guilt and forsake ambition? Why can’t we strive to be more than what the Indian society expects us to be? Why do so many women, in spite of having all the opportunities that men do, still dream of the “Perfect-Indian-Marriage-Plus-Two-kids“, and nothing beyond?

Our society needs to understand that true progress can only be realized when the nation harnesses the power of its sons as well as its daughters, instead of confining them to the duties that the conservative society expects them to do. There is a way, but it needs the support of the society, of the youth, who are going to be the Indian society of tomorrow. We as a people, need to think differently.

How can the society offer its support? By setting up well-equipped, efficient and trustworthy child-care centers for women working long hours. By making sure that maternity leave isn’t a euphemism for resignation. Some jobs require women to travel, sometimes at night. Safe travel services should be made available for the same. An environment of safety and encouragement is absolutely essential. A pat on the back from parents and in-laws once in a while, and recognition for the efforts that are being put in, matters a lot.

The recent appearance of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in the Atlantic magazine sparked discussions that provoked thought but left many unconvinced and confused. Slaughter left her position of power at Washington to join Princeton University to be closer to her family, and writes mainly about women corporate executives or leaders, who have to make huge family compromises. And although the title sounds far from positive, she ends the article by saying, “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.

These aren’t the ravings of a feminist, by the way. But I strongly feel that no one should have their dreams crushed to nothing, be dependent all their life on someone (don’t you wish you could buy yourself Prada with your own money?) and repent it all in the end. Not in the twenty first century.

So girls, don’t be afraid, don’t give up. Set an example for the generations of the future. Join the ranks of women who have made it big, and remember that you can soar high, but only if you want to.