The woman is the primary and often the only caregiver of children and elderly dependents at the household level; care work and constraints on her mobility imposed by family being the two ways patriarchy controls working women in India. She meets her domestic responsibilities and still aspires to succeed in the professional world, brushing shoulders with men at work to compete on identical parameters when they never started from equal grounds. And then there is also sexism at work place to deal with.
Even though the survival and smooth functioning of the household centers around women, and now the Government of India is increasingly recognizing her contribution and making efforts to focus all government programs around the mother, women are not sufficiently protected by laws to ensure their employment, participation and growth at work. Patriarchy being the root cause, everyday is a fight for women in India to keep her job, sustain business or earn a livelihood .
Even in the incident where the man fails to earn for his family, the women can never sleep till her children and family have been fed.
The wealth of women in India is the resilience with which she navigates around patriarchy and sexism and secures a footing in the society, never giving up but fighting back to reclaim her space.
According to the annual economic survey conducted by the Ministry of Finance the female labor force participation rate in India is just 24%- the worst in South Asia and among the G-20 nations only beating Saudi Arabia.
Nearly 20 million women left the workforce between 2004-2012. These women included illiterate and the most educated women in India because they had to choose between children and a career. Childcare is the responsibility of women alone; women in India do 10 times as much unpaid care work than men. Indian men on average chip in 31 minutes a day of unpaid care work at home.
The glass ceiling is a reality for women working in banking, politics, education and corporate industry; females are paid lesser in the same job profile because of the tradition where women's roles in the community services are underpaid and women hold less than 10% position of Board level and Director level.
Laws against sexual harassment at workplace and the Maternity Benefit( Amendment) Act were seen as a progressive direction for women's rights but in reality, employers are less likely to hire women due to their concerns about the demands imposed by the act.
In such a socio-cultural context, do equal education levels, skills, competence, exposure and aspirations yield equal opportunities for women and men in the workplace?
In India where even getting education(what subject, how much or how little, till when), acquiring skills,competence and exposure and choosing aspirations, organizations and who(persons) to work with are all controlled by patriarchy; what is the response of Indian women?
We are fighting back, stronger than ever before.
We are getting together in groups at different levels, extending and asking for support from each other to overcome barriers.
The rural woman and the urban woman, the frontline worker and the academician, the government official and the Self Help Group women, the lawyer and the victim, the teacher and the girl student, the doctor and the foot soldiers( ASHA workers), the social worker and the bureaucrat are all entering partnerships at individual levels, understanding that only when we work together will we succeed to overcome the hurdles from generation's long rule of patriarchy and be able to be financially independent and socially secure.
Understanding of the different faces of patriarchy and subjugation of women, the solutions and the group approach to address them is increasingly occurring at large scale in India across sectors.
There is a new found desperation in women across industries and geographies to achieve equality.
I found myself in the middle of sexism at my work place and the biggest revelation from this experience was to find women colleagues have empathy for me and acknowledge that what was happening clearly should not happen and at the same time, not do a thing to either support me against this man or express their stance.
A male boss is a boss later and a man first- confident to the level of brimming on arrogance of his superiority and right to dominate and control. Also true is, a female boss or colleague is a boss or colleague later and a female first- voluntarily sharing power and information with others, always with both her feet for compromise even at work place, having less value of her own contribution.
The organization was dominated by women employees and there were very few men yet the women refused to take a stance, each worried about how this particular man could harm them either personally or professionally. Women are defensive never assertive.
The man in this context heads the India chapter and when I was employed, I was under the mentor ship of a woman senior, a visionary in the organization but based abroad in the same department and in a higher position that this man. My work, success, efforts, partnerships and even personal peace in the office all became to be negatively impacted by this man because he was not ready to accept the leadership coming from a female who he thought is always inferior to a man and not deserving of support or sanction. Additionally, the man boss has harnessed contempt for the lady senior who I reported to and who was my mentor.
Men are used to being around women who are their girl friend, wife, sister, mother all of who dote on him, India values its son beyond unthinkable limits. Son can never do wrong, he can never be bad. The man maybe able to relate to a woman at work in that pulse if she too hangs on his every word hero worshiping him. The conflict arises when he finds an equal partner.
The efforts of sabotage, character assassination, gossiping became so profound and I took several moments to reflect on my course of action.
I had two choices at my disposal- keep quiet, pretend nothing happened, wait for a better season and accept patriarchy and sexism to be able to keep a job or resist the social evil, escalate the case to the internal authority to address conflict, make a benchmark.
I made the second choice. When I came across injustice and a larger social evil where a male leadership is committed to subdue female leadership within the organization and ensure programs for women and by women do not take off, this needs to be fought against head on and addressed because it is unacceptable. The norm of having men take lead in all programs needs to be replaced by nurturing female leadership.
I found most of my female colleagues step back from a situation where they could be asked for their testimony. At the same time, they kept their bridges to me so that if the complaint raised turned in my favor they could benefit from the conclusion and enjoy work with a male dictator out of the scene. I do not know which is worst- the male dictator or the spineless women in my workplace.
Renown social activist Kamala Bhasin said,' I know enough women who are totally patriarchal, who are totally anti-women; who do nasty things to other women, and have known men who have worked for women's rights their whole life. Feminism is not biological: feminism is an ideology.
Female contribution in the labor force will improve in India not just by having laws and policies aimed at equality unless equity is brought in because women and men do not start from equal grounds owing to patriarchy and sexism in our society.
The wealth of women is not just the success of her efforts to fight patriarchy and sexism at workplace and outside but her will power to resist it and confront it for herself and other women in the society.
Recently, the Supreme Court on Monday, 9 July upheld the death sentence awarded to the convicts in the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder case. Three of the four adult convicts had filed review petitions seeking reduction of the death sentence to life imprisonment. Mr. AP Singh, counsel for the convicts, said that the verdict was given due to political, public and media pressure.
It was owing to the mass collectivisation of women in different parts of India to decry rape and call for the most stringent punishment for rapists that brought justice for Nirbhaya.
We will move from one milestone to another, together and fighting for our rights to equality.
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Urmila Chanam is a social worker, gender rights activist and a print journalist from India. She comes from Manipur state in northeast region but lives in Bangalore city. She may be reached at [email protected]