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Are Household Responsibilities Holding Women Back From Participating In The Workforce?

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Today, only 25% of Indian women are employed. According to the World Bank’s 2017 India Development Report, India ranked 120 among 131 countries on female workforce participation. So, why are women not a part of our country’s economic progress? What challenges do they face and what holds them back from participating in the workforce?

I interviewed a young woman entrepreneur about the challenges she and her all-female staff face because of their responsibilities at home. “In the present Indian society, we are confused about our ‘gender roles’.” If a woman is working, she also has to shoulder the full responsibility of her home. I have found this extremely challenging as there are days when I just want to come back home and have my partner fix me a meal, but it just doesn’t happen that way. Men are not equipped with basic life skills like cooking or managing a home, and hence, they cannot contribute.

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When I started my business, I ensured that my team leaves by 4 p.m., so they have enough time to tend to their personal needs as well. These women take care of their household chores, support it financially, take care of their children, with little to no support from their husbands whatsoever. “There are times when, despite all their contributions, they are told they are selfish in wanting to work and are not doing enough for the home and family.”

This woman’s treatment of her employees should be an example for other small and medium-sized enterprises, to show empathy towards their women workforce. We need to acknowledge that as of today, women, when compared to men, have to do deal with a lot more. It is critical that we, both men and other women, be more understanding and supportive than we are.

The problems don’t stop at home. In the online survey I conducted on gender inequality, a few women opened up about the challenges they face at work. One respondent shared, “Though I hold a senior position in my organisation, and hence have many rights, any decision related to my work gets associated with my marriage or my pregnancy because of which I am deprived of any promotion.” Another one wrote, “Men find it difficult to take orders from me.”

Gender bias is at play when women are recruited for jobs. They easily get accepted for ‘nurturing’ jobs like nurses or teachers, but a qualified female mechanical engineer usually struggles to prove that she is as good, if not better, at the ‘hardcore’ jobs. Even in other jobs, there is a bias against women because they are not ‘cut out’ for extreme competition. These biases also reflect in the gender pay gap. Women get paid lesser than men for the same job because they ‘aren’t as efficient’.

According to ‘The Future is HERe’ report by Indian Woman Network (IWN) and Ernst & Young (EY), 47% respondents in their survey reported that they “have no more than 5% women in senior management roles”. Of the women who responded, 42% said that they face “managerial bias” and 33% felt that “there are different performance standards and expectations set from male and female employees working at the same level.”

While we explore the biases against women in the employment sector, we must also appreciate the role a woman can play at our workplace. In response to my survey question about how the presence of a woman changes things in a team, many felt that people start to behave well. “I think it makes the group more cheerful, in general. People become better behaved as well”, wrote a respondent. Some feel that the group becomes less toxic and more stable, while others lauded a woman’s multitasking skills. These responses reiterate the fact that we need balanced groups at workplaces to increase productivity and job satisfaction.

The biases held against women are archaic, and we must shed them to create a vibrant and productive workplace. We have come a long way from the times of our grandparents where women found it difficult to step out of their houses, so we must keep up the momentum to enable more women to pursue their dreams confidently. We must get rid of the social barriers that keep women from professional success. We must not undermine anyone’s talent because of their gender.

Empowering women in jobs and businesses is a crucial step towards gender equality. Let’s give women, not just a chance to venture out of their homes, but to excel in their careers and to achieve their potential. It is our responsibility, as an egalitarian society, to give them the opportunity and the environment in which they are free to do so.

About the Author:

Aggam Walia is a student of the High School Achievers Program conducted by Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). The High School Achievers Program identifies promising high schoolers and builds their capacity to lead change. This study was undertaken as part of the 2019 Delhi edition of the program.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this study are solely those of the author’s and do not represent the views of YLAC as an organisation.

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  1. Regula Ram

    May I add some thoughts to this interesting article?

    Reasons why thousands of smart Indian women stay at home:
    You are right that some find it tiring to be in charge of job AND the chores at home.
    Pobably that’s not the only reason.

    (Your survey is good and interesting, yet there are always things which have not been mentioned. I’m not criticizing your findings. Hope I may add one or two points.)

    Women in jobs help India’s economy, as you stated in the title. In addition tot hat, women in jobs get a feeling that they are regarded as adults, who are informed about what’s going on in the world – adults and nothing less.

    At the time a woman has two small children, she will see that small children are so full of energy that they make her tired (no matter she has a job or is at home around the clock!) When her offspring comes to age 10, 12 then they don’t keep her busy all the time. And she might regret her decision to become a housewife. The job-market might not want her any more, after a pause of 12 years.

    It can be a great experience for everybody if, say, jhethaani loves to be a housewife, and devraani has a job. Jhethaani can look after the children of both. Believe me, children benefit when they grow up in a group of, say, four children. At dinnertime and at bedtime each child will enjoy ‘real’ mummy’s company, of course.

    And why shouldn’t DADI look after the kids? Nearly every mother-in-law is keen on having grandchildren as soon as possible.
    If she really is child-loving, then one should think that she also enjoys looking after them, right?

    A minority of Indians live in nuclear (not joint) families. In other countries some couples, who unluckily have no granny, opt for having an au-pair. That’s a student, often female, who looks after their children and does part of the ‘chores’ during one year. Her presence enriches life. She will have her own family years later. So we can’t say the couple takes undue advantage of her. When they employ the next au-pair in the following year, the family gets to know another young lady. The world is wonderful and holds so many experiences for people who think positively and are ready to see the good sindes of every person they get to know.

    Let those who dream of becoming a housewife actually become housewives. Why not. Let the other half of young women have both family and job! Courageous women can find some sort of ally, a collegemate for example, and request the boss to allow her and her saheli to split the job. Part-time jobs are not something which drops down on earth from nowhere. We should rather think: If I don’t have a try, who will?

    Without criticizing your survey and your interesting article, I would like to add one more remark:

    Maybe the reason why many smart young Indian women do not participate in the workforce (see title) is not only the «burden» of having to do job as well as housework. Life is tiring. Everybody knows that babies make you tired. And yet most people look foreward to the great experience of having a child, right?
    In Lakhs of Indian families the young woman is kept at home because her family says staying at home is appropriate for a young woman, and that ist that.
    Many families want an obedient daughter-in-law. (As if a working woman respected the elders less!)
    (And if a mother-in-law takes satisfaction in sending her bahu to the kitchen to make tea for a visitor, and therefore the bahu «must be at home»… …I personally would feel ashamed, if I, as a sas, had that attitude!)

    If you grew up with a brother, then – I am pretty sure – you know : It is one of the cheapest excuses to say that, unfortunately, boys and men are not able to do household chores.
    I’d rather say :
    – A lazy man will always say « I’m so sorry, nobody has taught me
    that type of work».
    – There are so many modern and nice men. Maybe they lack routine
    in making roti, but I’ve come across many men who clean, cook
    vegetables, etc.
    – In theirs jobs, men are encouraged to find unusual solutions.
    Why should unusual solutions suddenly be bad when it comes to the way you organize your home ?
    – I know male Indians who actually did household chores when they were boys or teenagers. Their mum had been taught in HER childhood that she’ll be a proper and respectable mum only if she stops her son from washing his shirt by himself or from cooking himself a meal. So the son, who is willing to help, can’t help, because it would offend his mum’s pride.
    How weird is that ?

    Let’s also remember that any male Indian who goes abroad is suddenly equipped with basic life skills like cooking and managing a home.

    Besides, we should never, (explicitly or implicitly), tell a young Indian woman that she lacks « deshbhakti » if she intends to go to work. That’s what young women in Poland, in Japan, in many countries are told, you don’t honour Poland enough, you don’t Japan enough, if you dare go to work.

    The notion of women being born only for pampering kids and husband, that’s not typically Indian.
    That simply was the mentality oft he old days – in many many countries.

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