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‘What’s The Need For You To Work?’: The Million-Dollar Question For Married Women

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Mr and Mrs S and their toddler live in my residential complex. Mr S is an engineer who works in one of the software companies. Mrs S, who has a post graduate degree, stays at home taking care of the toddler.

Mrs S’s son and my daughter are almost of the same age and play together. Mrs S would often say to me, “It’s nice you go to work. Look at me, I have studied so much and I sit at home. Hopefully, when he grows up a bit and starts his schooling, I can do something.”

I suggested to her that if she does not have family support and is reluctant to leave her son at day care or with a nanny, why not think of starting something from home.

She knows basic beautician work and the complex we live in has many working women who would love to have an in-house beauty parlour.

I suggested to Mrs S to enrol for a professional course and then start a parlour, on a small scale, out of her residence.

This would serve the dual purpose of her being engaged and making her own money and, at the same time, being around for her child.

My mom, who takes care of my daughter and runs a play school at home to keep herself occupied, suggested that Mrs S can enroll herself in a Montessari course and then take up teaching in a pre school so that she can try and get a job in the same school where her son studies and that would work well to suit her needs.

Mrs S sounded enthusiastic and upbeat about the parlour idea. Mom and I were happy as we are strong advocates of women needing to find their purpose and do what makes them happy- here was another woman whom we had tried show a path to.

But the enthusiasm was short lived.

A few days later Mrs S told my mom that Mr S was not too happy with her idea of working.

“What’s the need for you to work? I am earning well and have never said no to any of your demands. I do my best to keep you and Baby S happy. If you work, Baby S will be neglected, you wont be able to manage him and your work.”

Mrs S decided to abide by her hubby’s wishes.

Now, till this incident happened I always had great regard for Mr S. He single-handedly managed the household, took the family for outings and to good restaurants.

Mrs S regularly proudly displayed her latest online shopping loot from Limeroad.

I always thought that he was a caring and responsible husband and father. I do not see him cribbing or refusing his wife’s demands, but after this incident it got me thinking – is he really a caring and good husband?

Shouldn’t he be encouraging his wife to go and pursue her interests? Do simply meeting her demands for clothes and fine dining qualify him as a good hubby?

Another contrasting situation which comes to mind is of my very good friend, Ms X. She is a Chartered Accountant, like me, and we studied together.

Once, during the course of our internship, we had the sudden urge to go street shopping. While my other friend and I were all excited, Ms X was a bit hesitant.

On further probing, she revealed that her debit card was with her dad and she had no money on her.

We offered to cover her for now. But this happened multiple times, that she was always short of money.

One day, I asked her how her card was always with her dad. She replied that while we got our debit cards on starting college, her father kept hers.

He operates her bank account and at the start of every month, hands her money for her needs. If she needs extra money, she needs to ask him for it.

I found it odd that a 24-year-old Chartered Accountant, earning her own money, needs her dad to handle her finances.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against giving your card to family members. My mom  borrows my card, I borrow my hubby’s card when I run short of money but that’s always a temporary thing.

I cannot think of any reason why I would not be in a position to manage the same money I make.

Ms X is now Mrs X and her card has moved hands from her dad to hubby. The hubby has taken over the duty her father used to perform.

Now as CAs, with work experience, we do make decent money and as young women we have wishes – like buying that designer handbag, those glossy heels or indulging in a good meal with office friends or buying a gift for your parents, child or hubby.

For me, it’s as simple as deciding if I want to spend that sum of money and out comes my Amex (or stays tucked in my bag!).

But Mrs X who gets more of an allowance for her needs would need to go back and ask for her own money.

I am not here to rant about her dad or hubby – she is a young, educated, independent working woman.

But is she any more liberated than my neighbour Mrs S? I do not have the answer.

I recall when I was of the so-called ‘marriageable age’ (actually I had crossed it as per the Indian standards),  and my family was looking out for a suitable alliance – I heard some comments like – she has studied too much, makes a lot of money for her age, it’s difficult to get boys in our community who match her salary.

I realised that the pride that I have at making a six-figure salary every month and working at one of the top MNCs that others pine to work for – those very things that made me feel a sense of achievement were the same things that went against me in the ‘marriage’ market.

A good friend cautioned me saying, “Don’t marry a guy who makes less money than you, my elder sis has married one, it’s been 10 years and they have a lot of ego issues”.

Seems the sister’s card and decision-making capacity are also with the hubby.

I fail to understand these few things:

  • While we encourage our girls to study and reach new heights, why do we try to clip their wings when it comes to marriage and utter statements like “You have studied too much, you make a lot of money and that’s why you can’t find a guy?” Isn’t it time we stop measuring a person’s worth just by money? So what if the girl makes more? Does that make the spouse any less of a man?
  • As independent, liberated and working women, why do we need our men (fathers, brothers, husbands, children) to manage our money and cards? I do understand in many households the savings are pooled and centrally-managed and I think that’s surely a good idea. But why aren’t women and men jointly managing this then? And keeping their respective cards with them.
  • If a woman decides to take a career break or pursue other interests that’s perfectly acceptable, we must respect her choice but what happens when she wishes to join the workforce? Why don’t we support her aspirations rather than tie her down by playing on her fears about the child?

I know this is yet another controversial topic I have decided to write about but these two stories I mentioned above are as real as the sun that shines bright. And so is the dilemma I faced when it came to my marriage.

These are some hard hitting questions we need to ponder over and answer to ensure that when our little daughters and sons grow up, then we are not entangled in the web of these beliefs which caught Mrs S, Ms X and so many of us in its realm – else who knows Mrs S would have been an entrepreneur in the making today?

And Ms X would have walked straight into that Tanishq store and bought those pair of diamond earrings she had set her heart on!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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