I consider myself to be privileged as I’m born into a family which is amazing. My parents have motivated and supported me to do what makes me happy. However, there have been continuous incidents in my life that make me question the notion of gender inequality. I am not talking about the physical differences between males and females. I am talking about individual rights and duties that go unnoticed on a large scale.
As a young girl, I didn’t face any restrictions from my parents from doing what I wanted to, but I was asked to help my mother in the kitchen and do other domestic jobs. It is not that I wouldn’t have done it by myself or I had to sacrifice my studies. However, I did have to sacrifice some things. Otherwise, I would have used the time to read or do anything else that I liked.
Somehow, I was supposed to be helping my mom. I felt obliged out of moral duty and my wish to help her, so I did. Yet, the same thing didn’t happen in the case of my brother. When I left home for higher studies and he was at home, he was not obliged to take part in domestic work and kitchen as much as I was. What I took from it as a girl was that I should take part and learn those jobs to be an accomplished individual, whereas the same doesn’t hold true for my brother.
I did my B Tech in aerospace engineering from a college in Chennai. I like working and learning new things. I used to take part in projects which would help me learn and grow. I got selected to work on a satellite project in my college. This project wasn’t a part of the course. It made us work extra hours after our classes and on the weekends.
Women’s hostel had its curfew time at 19:00, after which no girl was allowed to be out of the hostel. However, the curfew time for boys was 22:00 or later. Our classes used to end by 16-16:30 and I had to rush to the lab to work for the satellite project. Girls working in this project got an extension till 21:00 to enter their hostels for a month. However, after that month, we again had almost no time to do useful work in the satellite lab with equipments. The equipments were only available there.
We asked for an extension so that we could enter hostel late. We were denied and were told that it was for our own safety. The speech of the head professor for the project, just a couple of minutes after his denial of the permission was so ironic. “I see only a few of you are staying back in the evenings to work and research. If we are setting ambitious goals we have to work more“. The very existence of different curfew timings for men and women is questionable. The denial of permission to work on a project further projects this idea of women not being the important members of the team. We really need to rethink over the existing structures of ideas and rules if we want an equal and healthy workforce.
Now, let’s go to another angle of the story. Both my parents work and they have shared duties. However, this is not very common for most of the couples around me. Women are supposed to take care of the domestic duties with little or no help from their husbands. Moreover, they are the ones who have to sacrifice their careers to take care of children and so on. This is so inevitable that it is taken for granted.
My cousin is a creative and productive woman who contributes in the best ways she can to the company or organisation she is a part of. However, she had to quit her job for a long time after her delivery. It affected her mentally. Finally, she had to opt for a job in which she could work from home. She doesn’t like the job. Both she and her husband could have taken turns to take care of the baby. That didn’t happen. She had to sacrifice her career to take care of ‘their’ child. At her marriage, her father (my uncle) gave a car as a ‘gift’ to my cousin, who doesn’t even know driving and is moving to another country where her husband is.
This story resonates with so many other people. My father’s friend did the same for his daughter’s marriage and the amount of money and resources spent were huge, which were only to be borne by the girl’s family. This culture is unhealthy and will take us nowhere. There is no logic in giving ‘gifts’ or spending that much money on the demand of the in-laws. Another message it sends is that the girl is somehow less important than the guy as an individual. There is no way this inequality would have a positive impact on the woman or the man.
It doesn’t end there. Some well educated or talented ladies are not allowed to work because of their family or the in-laws family won’t prefer it. Working for something you like and are good at boosts your confidence. It becomes a part of your identity. It helps you recognise yourself as someone who is contributing something towards the world. I don’t mean to say that our mothers who don’t work outside are not contributing in any way. I am just trying to show another perspective of a working individual.
We are losing so many talented people in the workforce. Another important thing is the involvement of male members such as fathers for caring. It has a very positive impact on the infants and children to receive care from both the parents. It shapes them in a positive manner and they have a lot to take from this environment early in their life. This affects their behaviour, actions and decisions later in their life.
All these stories are from middle-class families in India. The people I have written about are educated. If we, who receive formal education cannot accommodate these thoughts and idea, then how will we achieve the dream of a greater India. Women bring with them a lot of positive things in the workforce. We need a stronger workforce as well as a healthier family space to help the economically, culturally and socially weaker sections of our society.