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It’s 2016 But Young Working Women Still Face Sexism, Wage Gap And Double Standards

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ILO logoEditor’s Note:With #FutureOfWork, the International Labour Organization India and Youth Ki Awaaz are coming together to explore the spectrum of issues that affect young people's careers and work lives. Join the conversation! 

By Saswati Chatterjee:

I made the jump from college to work suddenly and found the transition to be both exciting and jarring. From a university student to a serious ‘working woman’ – the change took place in a span of a few months and I found that my world had changed.

But, I wasn’t the only one going through this transition. Many of my peers were joining the workforce, pursuing their passions in diverse fields, and were now a part of a system much like me. Some love their jobs, some hate it, and some complain of mind-boggling sexism and discrimination.

Women have always worked. But it is only in the last few decades that they have come to be regarded as critical members of the workforce. Instead of being treated as invisible entities, today women are entering diverse fields as scientists, IT professionals, academicians, engineers, designers and more. But not too long ago, women were hardly recognised for their unpaid work. My mother’s generation, for instance, never saw the ‘work’ they did as turning into a viable career. For them it was just something they did out of a sense of duty and no one put a value to their contribution. But that’s not how it is now. Work for a woman is a crucial part of her identity.

We asked a few women what work means for them, and here’s what they had to say.

The Meaning Of Work

Job satisfaction seems to be an important theme across the board. Considering that people are spending more and more time at work, quality of work is of utmost importance. The question however is not how comfortable they feel at work, but how much it aligns with their ethics and belief systems. If we don’t believe in what we do, then why do we do it?

Let’s take Ananya for instance. She joined one of India’s largest TV networks with huge expectations. Sadly, reality proved to be disillusioning; she was disappointed when she found herself doing something radically different from her job description.

A student of literature, she was upset to find that her work felt “less like a creative process and more like small scale event management.” As Ananya says, “There is hardly any intellectual agency and I feel like I am being paid to waste my time. I also worry about getting duller and more indifferent by the day.”

Of Work Dynamics And Hierarchies

While most people understand work structures as linear – a ‘boss’ and a team of ‘subordinates’, where the boss may even act as a mentor to his team – that concept is fast changing. For example, Smita Mathur, who works in the publishing industry, says her workplace encourages “an approachable support system.” This essentially means that anyone can be a “sounding board” for any other person in the team. Undoubtedly, there is a movement towards a culture which promotes doing away with traditional notions of hierarchy. Today it is more team work – where everyone is helping each other.

Nidhi Taparia

With fluid work structures also comes the issue of work timings. It’s here that women in India still face challenges. Nidhi Taparia, an entrepreneur, talks of her boss who once went out of his way to spend a few minutes chatting with her dad who was visiting. “My boss knew that I lived alone in the city and he did a lot to reassure my dad that I was doing great work and that I should be allowed to pursue my dreams.” A workplace that understands the many problems women, especially in India, face while working, or just getting to work, can be invaluable.

However, while the system is changing, the progress has been slow. Nidhi, for example, feels that more women should be in positions of power, as compared to the reality today. More women in leadership roles would encourage greater participation of women in the workforce. “When a lot of women quit the team, whoever is the boss, he/she must be questioned. I don’t think organisations hold men – who are leaders – accountable or even sensitise them as to how to deal with the issues of women employees,” she adds.

Discrimination – Is It A Myth?

Arti Khanijo

Then there is the question of gender bias. Many women may not have faced it openly but most have suffered silently sexist comments and attitudes. Public relations professional Asleen Madhok Anand says, “Sales companies look for that ‘outrageously beautiful girl but with no brains’!”

Then there are companies that ask gender-insensitive questions during job interviews, and clearly, women are singled out. Some employers are direct, while others hint that marriage or motherhood may mar the woman’s career progression.

Arti Khanijo, a doting parent to a two-year old, was shocked when she was asked inappropriate questions about future family plans during a job interview by a “renowned MNC.” “If that wasn’t enough, they went on to ask if I was planning to have kids in the next two years. I didn’t want to join a company that takes such promises from an employee before joining,” she says firmly.

This organisational mindset indicates that women are seen as burdens or an investment by companies. They are also still viewed as homemakers and caretakers first and working women later. Sairee Chahal, founder of Sheroes (a venture dedicated to making workplaces more equal and providing women with diverse career opportunities based on their needs) says, “I look forward to the day when the internet will show more results of women-led businesses and opportunities rather than stereotyping them as people who are interested only in cooking, parenting and shopping websites.”

Money Talk And More

The wage gap is another reality that working women are battling with all over the world. The gender wage divide has been found to be increasing at higher wage levels. So, the higher the woman moves up the ladder, the more disparate her income becomes from her male counterparts. This has numbers as high as 34% in the tech sector, an industry not known for hiring a lot of women to begin with. Also, this issue is not just industry-specific. Anita, a TV producer, said that during her campus placement, her classmate – a man – was offered twice as much as her and it was for the same job role. “I wondered – is it a gender thing, or if he’s just a better negotiator? Either way, it’s unfair,” she recounts.

It was also noted that motherhood becomes one of the underlying reasons for the overall gender pay gap, with some countries paying mothers 33% less than non-mothers. Many companies step back from hiring women altogether so as to avoid granting them maternity leave. However, with the recent amendment to the Maternity Benefit Bill in India – increasing maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, we can hope for better conditions for women in the workplace in the future.

The Double Standard

Asleen Madhok Anand

Women have always been achievers. From being renowned scientists and astronauts to commanding in the boardroom. Yet, society still views them in nurturing roles – as mothers, daughters, sisters. Women aren’t necessarily seen as individuals. And that’s where everything gets topsy-turvy.

Asleen sums it up rather well. “When you get married it gets tougher to manage your career and home. I work in a corporate and timing is always an issue. Yet, no matter what time I reach home, I am expected to enter the kitchen, slice onions, fix a meal and be a good homemaker!”

Great job, society.

Dear working woman, we want to hear your story. Write to us. Tell us about YOUR career aspirations, the struggles, discriminatory practices you want changed, your expectations from your workplace, skills mismatch and wage gaps, and your unique experiences in starting your own business. Join the conversation and let us strive towards making decent work a reality for all!


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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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