The views expressed in this article are the author’s and are not necessarily the views of the partners.
Sexism at the workplace is not a new trend yet the only place it gets mentioned is in hushed discussions at house parties when nothing better can be found to keep the conversation going. It is deemed too controversial and political to talk about something that directly affects half of the entire population. The exploitative, gendered practices are not just limited to white-collar jobs but pervade almost every other sphere of our social lives.
First, equality of opportunity though envisaged theoretically hardly makes its way into the executive sphere. Women face the added burden on account of their gender while availing basic services such as education and professional opportunities. Owing to a medieval mindset that still abounds in a male-dominated society, women are primarily considered fit enough for the job of a homemaker, without any formal pay or access to resources.
This invisible labour, performed by thousands of women across the nation, sustains and enables their male counterparts to have a comparatively better shot at work opportunities and secure a better livelihood. Even when the male members of a household decide to “let” their daughter/wife/daughter-in-law work a job, she is expected to keep up her domestic responsibilities under the ratcheted-up pressure.
More so, it is often considered a sign of progressiveness on the part of the male members to allow women to work, the agency of which they never had in the first place.
The very chance to take any competitive examination becomes so minimal for women that any woman doing so successfully is considered to be an exception. Anna Rajam Malhotra, independent India’s first woman IAS officer had to fight gender-bias every step of her way as she tried to prove that she was at par with her male counterparts. It was not much different for CB Muthamma either, India’s first woman IFS officer who had to battle sexist marriage rules to make a place for herself in the coveted service.
It was not because of incompetence or lesser qualifications that these women were discriminated against. The entire institutionalized misogyny stemmed from a very well-entrenched and pervasive yet dangerous idea that women are in general, inferior to men.
Even after over seventy years of independence and efforts for inclusion of women in public spheres, the situation is not much better. According to a 2019 ThePrint report on gender divide at the highest echelons of power, only 11 women are posted as Union Secretaries among a total of 88 officers. Barring a couple of women officers who were posted in crucial ministries, the others occupied less attractive posts.
The corporate sector is not overflowing with equality either. Of the companies that made it to the 2019 Fortune 500 list, the CEOs of mere 33 of them are women. Leave the top echelons aside, the rampant stereotypes about women in technical sectors are mind-boggling.
Women are considered to be the secondary choice for availing any resource or opportunity if a male counterpart is in the race for the same. It is for this reason that the Delhi government undertook an ambitious and necessary initiative to make public transport (metros) free for women. Refusing to comprehend the rationale behind the policy measure, vested interests indulged in beating the drums about reverse sexism and discrimination against men.
The percentage of women in law-making bodies is not very encouraging. While the figure rose to a record high of 14% in the 17th Lok Sabha, it is a marginal increase from the figure of 5% in the maiden Lok Sabha of independent India. Furthermore, a sizable figure of 264 constituencies have never elected a woman MP from 1952 to 2019. Pervasive misogyny, sexism and glass ceilings at every step of the way contribute to this plight.
Even when women are catapulted into positions of power, more often than not, they are used as the proxy of a male member of the family who could not occupy the position owing to legal or political considerations. A rather fallacious but popular argument that tries to justify this botched up scenario is that women are inherently under-qualified and inferior to men.
While this is prima facie an outrageous assumption, it is important to understand where this stems from. After having institutions of power to themselves for centuries, a new burgeoning era of equal rights is rattling patriarchal authorities. As a result, in a mode of defensive mechanism, they resort to various reasonings ranging from pseudo-scientific theorization to barrages of sexist slurs.
This worrisome situation turns even sorrier for the women belonging to marginalized communities and castes. In 2019, Ramya Haridas became the second-ever Dalit woman MP from the state of Kerala. Moreover, manual scavenging – an inhumane and medieval way of cleaning up waste by directly descending into sewers and toxic manholes has over 95% women of the total number of employed people.
A glance at the scenario is enough to tell us how women from marginalized castes not only face the brunt of gender-bias but also battle casteism to avail basic resources, access to opportunities and get accorded dignity.
It is indeed a sorry state of affairs that even after seventy-plus years of independence and self-governance, we have ignored the invisible labour that goes into our economy, industry and society. Dozens of legislations serve very little purpose other than serving as a labyrinth of confusion for the powerful and privileged to skirt and circumvent the law in order to maintain their hegemony.
Workplaces are something we encounter daily, a functional and crucial cog of the wheel of our life.
Yet, every time we refuse to entertain a discussion regarding the nuances of gender and caste at workplaces citing it to be too political, we are shying away from an important responsibility. Gender bias and casteism at the workplace are serious issues that need to be comprehended sociologically and sorted out at the earliest. The dawn of a new era of equality, transparency and inclusiveness depends on us stepping up to the challenge.