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9 Harsh Realities Of Being A Working Woman

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Mary is turning thirty this year and is not married. Her parents have given up trying to arrange an alliance and she has not been able to find the right person herself. She has been focusing on her work in a healthcare company for the last ten years. But unfortunately, she has not risen high enough in the organization. Her father tells her that she has nothing much to show for ‘sacrificing’ her personal life for her career. She has interviewed for jobs in other companies but found that she will not be gaining much by making the jump. Is there something wrong in her approach that prevents her from achieving success?

Sheela goes to work now that her kids are grown up. She has been waiting for quite a while to use her skills at the workplace and gain some financial freedom. However, she has come to realize that she has merely added one more job to her existing ones as ‘cook’, ‘cleaner’, ‘wife’ and ‘parent’. She is run off her feet trying to perform her roles at work and home to everyone’s satisfaction and has grown increasingly frustrated and fatigued. Her children and husband do not help with the chores or the household management. Her job sometimes requires her to stay late and she feels torn between guilt and anger when she rushes home and meets her family’s accusing eyes as she starts making dinner. They cannot afford a cook and she is also diffident about giving an outsider the house key. Sheela is exhausted all the time and wonders if she is not as capable as she had thought she was. Her job is interesting and she can visualize being successful there. But she also feels guilty that she is neglecting her home and family. Should she quit her job and her new-found independence? The stress is killing her and her husband is unhappy that she orders dinner when she is late.

Just as Mary found that her commitment to her job does not help her advance, many working women have found that their rewards are not commensurate with their experience or capabilities. While girls do extremely well in school and college, this success is usually not carried forward in the workplace. They find it tougher at every stage, from entry point to senior levels. All that ambition and academic success—where does it all go? Here are some hard facts exposing the ugly reality where women and the workplace are concerned:

1. It’s more difficult to get a job: If you are young and fresh out of college, the human resource manager suspects that you will not be as committed to a career as your male counterpart. You may quit to get married or take a maternity break. He prefers to hire a man, even though he may be less qualified and capable, because he is certain that he will be more likely to stay in the job.

2. You earn less: A recent study by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, India, shows that a woman earns perhaps 30 per cent less than an equally educated male candidate over a lifetime of work.1 You are often regarded as a doubtful commodity and forced to prove that you can deliver results, starting all over again when you change jobs. Men may look to you when they want someone to take notes or do the ‘simpler’ tasks. Clients may ignore you and address a male junior, assuming that he is your superior, just because he is a male.

3. You are not given credit: Often, even when you drive a team’s success, the credit is given to the men in your team, as per the general perception about what men and women are capable of achieving. Sometimes your success is attributed to a perceived closeness with the boss. You may also be prone to downplaying your role as you are taught to be self-effacing. If you fail, however, the price you pay is higher, as it merely reinforces popular belief.

4. You are afraid to negotiate: Most women find it hard to claim their dues in pay or position as they fear that they will appear pushy and lose the job. If you are efficient and ambitious, you are regarded as aggressive and manipulative. Employers are rel uctant to accept females in strong positions, as they perceive them to be hard as nails and lacking in social skills. The same stance in a man, however, is easily accepted—a result of skewed social attitudes.

5. You underplay your ambition: You may not wish to be labelled a feminist, a word that is often mistakenly used to mean a strident woman who is a ‘taker’ instead of a ‘giver’. If you make a point forcefully, men often smirk and speculate whether it is ‘the wrong time of the month’.

6. Landmines at every step: You must be nice as befits a woman, but not too nice, which makes you seem lackadaisical or gullible. You must be a nurturer, but not a hands-on mother, as you will then lose focus on your job. You must be confident and capable, but not shrill and shrewish.

7. Trying to do it all: You think you must be the perfect mother, wife, housekeeper, employee and boss. However, this is not possible when you have only a finite amount of time and energy. You are forced to make choices between work and home, and between your own needs and those of others, ending up dealing with your own guilt as well as flak from others.

8. The likeability factor:When a man is successful, everyone likes him. However, this is not the case with a woman. Likeability is a key factor when it comes to advancement in both personal and professional spheres. So, if your ambition makes your seniors think that you can’t work well with others, you may lose that plum position you have been aiming for.

9. Focusing on marriage over career: Society brainwashes you into believing that your first priority is to catch the right man before the world runs out of them! Keeping this in mind, you start turning down opportunities, responsibilities, leadership positions, transfers—much before you need to.

So, does all this mean that you should not have a career? If you do take the leap and begin working, should you compromise on pay and position, so as to not rock the boat too much? Of course not! An article in the Harvard Business Review asks if a woman’s high-status career hurts her marriage, and provides the answer: ‘Not if her husband does the laundry!’ Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, says in her TED Talk: ‘One, sit at the table. Two, make your partner a real partner. And three, don’t leave before you leave.’ She advises women to participate in decision-making, to make their partners contribute to household tasks, and to not make decisions, such as taking a break to have a child, before they are needed.So, you should keep pushing back at these obstacles—both internal and external—and join forces with other women to help improve conditions for women. You just have to be smarter and play your cards right.

This is an excerpt from the book ‘Awaken The Durga Within’ written by Usha Narayanan.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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