Patriarchy and Sexism Cannot Stop Indian Women: The Economics Of Resilience

Urmila Chanam
Posted July 13, 2018 from India
Together we will move inch by inch, forward to reclaim our spaces in our workplace and public life
Together we will move inch by inch, forward to reclaim our spaces in our workplace and public life

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.

* * * *

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 urmila.chanam@gmail.com

This post was submitted in response to #WealthofWomen.

Comments 37

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  • jlanghus
    Jul 13
    Jul 13

    Hi Urmila.

    Thanks for sharing your powerful story. I'm glad to hear that women are rising up in India.

    Good luck on your submission!

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 13
    Jul 13

    Yes, my sister we are joining hands and uniting like never before. Its a great and a turning point in India. Thank you for being there for me with time to time advice and information. Your care is a demonstration of love, wealth of women.

    Hugs and kisses from India
    Urmila Chanam

  • jlanghus
    Jul 14
    Jul 14

    Yay:-) Sounds like great progression.

    You're very welcome, and thank your for the lovely, heartfelt compliment. I appreciate it:-)

    XO

  • Olutosin
    Jul 13
    Jul 13

    My earth Angel. We will move, definitely. We will move higher Amen. I'm happy that you allowed me to share in your journey. We can fight sexism and patriarchy just the way Indian women are doing it. Do you remember the argument we had on your post last week? Unfortunately some people are still at the denial stage. How can we fight if we continue to deny what we see daily or what women resist daily?
    I stand with you my sister.

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 13
    Jul 13

    Thanks for standing with me through so many years, trials and tribulations. Your love and friendship are testimony of wealth of women. The argument on my post on India being the most dangerous place in the world for women shows us the denial people in my country live in. They told me I am a traitor for believing India is not safe for women. I wish they went and fought the social evils than us who bring out the facts. Do you know India had the most regressive practices like Sati, Jauhar, Purdah, child marriage and Devdasi?

  • AnuradhaCIP
    Jul 21
    Jul 21

    Thanks Urmila for sharing your thoughts! We need to work together to end violence against women .

  • Urmila Chanam
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    You know my sister, there are many forms of violence needing definitions to be identified. If a woman cannot keep a job, her growth or continuation is dependent on how low she can keep herself without competing with men or even being an equal, that is violence to me because the principles of subjugation is based on control. We must fight this at all levels including talking about this to our children and mentoring the youth.

    Much love always,
    Urmila Chanam
    India
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • Stephanie Mah
    Jul 13
    Jul 13

    Dear Urmila. Thanks for sharing this nice inspiring story with us keep up with your work.

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 14
    Jul 14

    Thanks Stephanie for reading and encouraging me. The act of encouragement and extending solidarity to each other is what the World Pulse spirit is all about. Keep walking.

    Love and prayers
    Urmila Chanam

  • Tarke Edith
    Jul 15
    Jul 15

    Helo Urmila thank you for sharing. You are doing a great job l pray that this womem should rise up together

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 16
    Jul 16

    Tarke, we are one and let us walk together. There is immense strength in talking to each other about our vision and plans, what we want to do, what our strengths are and what we can offer others and what our needs are. I wish you all the best and hope to read your story submissions and ideas.
    Much love from India,
    Urmila Chanam,
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • kushavarta
    Jul 21
    Jul 21

    good to know your story

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 22
    Jul 22

    Dear Kushavarta,

    Welcome to World Pulse. You can post your story, share your resource/skill/asset or look at opportunities of funding, skill building, networking, conference or seminar all at www.worldpulse.com. If you have any clarifications on surfing the website do feel free to reach out.

    Much love from Bangalore,
    Urmila Chanam,
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • Minakshib
    Jul 21
    Jul 21

    Very good

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 22
    Jul 22

  • Minakshib
    Jul 21
    Jul 21

    Very nice

  • Manisha Tokle
    Jul 21
    Jul 21

    आर्थीक सक्षमीकरण बहुत जरूरी है

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 22
    Jul 22

    Dear Manisha Tokle,

    I am in agreement with you that for empowerment of women to happen at scale in India or anywhere else in the world, its imperative for them to gain economic empowerment and be financially independent. With financial stability comes heightened decision making and inclusion in family and community life. Hope to hear about your aspirations and interest.

    In solidarity,
    Urmila Chanam,
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • The fight is real and the women are up to it. A voice activates other voices like yours did

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 22
    Jul 22

    Dear Sally,

    Women and children bear the burden of war and policies/government decisions that are crafted incorrectly. Look at the 1.8 million new HIV infections of last year; this was largely because of US funded HIV prevention efforts in Africa and Asia which were halted and all efforts only focused on treatment of HIV/AIDS. Thanks for reading sister and our fight will succeed because we are together in it. More power to you.

    Hugs and kisses
    Urmila Chanam
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • I feel so alarmed by the situation because we risk denying a group of persons existence. I feel we need to double our efforts in the domain of prevention. We are in this together and we shall change the policies or cause them implemented correctly. Remember what you just did to the legislators of India two weeks ago. We must have every group benefit from the best health policies!!!!

  • Urmila Chanam
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    Dear Sally, HIV/AIDS is a social disease; the poor, women and children and marginalized communities are at more risk of getting infection or accessing treatment and care. Unless deliberate efforts to empower these communities are made which should be beyond just health parameters, new infections will continue to kill more. I wish you all the best in all your endeavors.

    Prayers and wishes,
    Urmila Chanam
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • Tamarack Verrall
    Jul 25
    Jul 25

    My dear Sister,

    Once again you dare to question the current system of patriarchal governments, to name this patriarchy that we live under, and to acknowledge that many of us, finally finding each other, do not accept this domination, that it can and must change, and that there are examples present and past of societies in which women and girls are respected leaders with visionary and different priorities that benefit all. Sadly true too, that women intent on holding onto their own positions are too often afraid to speak out and/or be willing to join hands for change, being concerned only with their own lives, despite that their positions were made possible because of the work of women like you who have dared to open the path. Your courage and commitment to speaking out is changing the face of your whole country, and empowering thousands of others. You are an inspiration for what is possible. What a beautiful light you shine along this pathway we share toward a world of peace, and respect for women and girls.

    With much love in sisterhood,
    Tam

  • Urmila Chanam
    Jul 25
    Jul 25

    My heart rejoices to read your comment and listen to your thoughts and beliefs. How beautifully you have phrased that women who are stepping back from supporting other women who are trying to pave way for women in the workplace do not realize that their positions were made possible because their fore runners fought for them. There is so much of pain involved in these kind of situations both at professional and personal life. I am thankful to you for reading my story and discussing this matter. Love you sister Tam.

    Hugs and kisses
    Urmila Chanam

  • Adanna
    Jul 26
    Jul 26

    Nice one Urmila!

    Well done for all you do for the women in India.

    Love,
    Adanna

  • Urmila Chanam
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    We are together!!!

  • KNR
    Jul 26
    Jul 26

    Inspiring - keep up the fight and don't lose heart. You are not alone.

  • Urmila Chanam
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    Dear KNR,

    Your comment brought me a smile and a whiff of confidence. Thank you, god bless you.

    Love and hugs
    Urmila Chanam
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • Sophie Ngassa
    Jul 27
    Jul 27

    Dear sister, I like the picture you used. It gives power to women world wide. Thanks for sharing this story and your strong passion for change. Love you!!!

  • Urmila Chanam
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    My sister, our vision is often sparked by a visual. Glimpses of something we saw somewhere stay with us to fuel in us a feeling of what we want to be, how we want to go about it. When few people ask me how long the workshop was, what are the follow up activities, how impact is measured I am completely ill equipped to answer that way of looking at change.This picture was taken in Amethi in Uttar Pradesh in the year 2016 after our training on menstruation and we were so sparked with our learnings we spoke aloud to each other flaying our arms high up in the air that we will be the change.

    Love you back my sister.

    Hugs and kisses
    Urmila Chanam
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • sarah_2
    Jul 31
    Jul 31

    I am so happy for women in India.Keep rising my sister's,and you all will do exploit

  • Urmila Chanam
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    Women in India will fight back sister. We will not remain indoors just because rape is on the rise; we will not remain hidden just because the attack on our safety has reached new proportions. We will continue wearing what we like on ourselves too.

    Love and prayers,
    Urmila Chanam
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • sarah_2
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    We will sure keep praying for you my dear sister.
    Keep it up!

  • Hello, Urmila,

    You are a phenomenal woman. In my downtrodden moments, I think about you and your words of encouragements that you wrote on my posts. You have touched lives in India and even mine who is in the Philippines.

    I am teary-eyed reading your post. It is really tough being woman, but you are tougher for rising up and breaking your silence. I hope I can meet you in person. You are my hero. I love you. :)

  • Urmila Chanam
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    Dear Karen,

    I have been silent for about 3 weeks as I am working on a very big volume book, my campaign 5 year completion report which I plan to launch it across the world so that any woman who wants to work on women's health, sexual reproductive health, menstrual health, women empowerment or community can learn from my journey. I have only begun and I know its going to take me 2-4 months.

    You are an inspiration to me too for your strong will to not give up on your current situations; I am confident you will find the light very soon its already on its way to you. Thanks for your loving words, I feel strengthened by them too.

    Love and prayers,
    Urmila Chanam,
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com

  • Aziza Roshani
    Aug 02
    Aug 02

    Hello Urmila,

    Congratulations on this amazing piece! I can see many commonalities in our countries the way they treat women. For sure, patriarchy and gender-based violence have remained one of the most clear treats in the mainstream society like Afghanistan and India. Thank you for sharing it and more power to you.

    Love,
    Aziza :)

  • Urmila Chanam
    Aug 05
    Aug 05

    I am not surprised the trend of ill treating women is common in our countries and I am sure any woman from the 190 World Pulse network countries will have many painful stories to share. What is important is how we fight this at all levels and strengthen each other, if not at proximity but in our thoughts and love we give out. I wish you all the best in your endeavors, my sister hope we will keep meeting online on World Pulse :)

    Love and hugs
    Urmila Chanam
    India
    urmila.chanam@gmail.com