How Creches At Indian Offices Can Empower More Women To Work

Posted: July 24, 2014

Women can’t have it all precisely because they are responsible for too many things! Would creches at Indian offices help to level the playing field for women?

The recent confessions by Indira Nooyi on why “women can’t have it all” started a different kind of debate with a lot of women around me. A lot of the debate material revolved around lack of support structures for women to pursue their jobs with greater efficiency. I heard a lot of statements, all signifying the lack of support structures.

“You need a support structure. You have to work outside for money and also because you want to.” “Lack of support to fulfill the multiple roles that have fallen in our arms make us helpless.”

Women make up 24% of India’s workforce. But only 5% of them reach the top layer, compared to the global average of 20%. A majority of them give up their jobs or fall behind on performance during their ‘start a family’ period in life. When we think of the reasons for this imbalance, one major point seen is the sheer absence of day-care at the workplace keeping millions of working women from working. Indian work places and environments force women to choose between work and children, instead of adapting itself to the changing roles of women in our society.

She has to take the harsh decision of choosing between what she wants more and what is expected out of her.

Over the years the concept has been this: if the mother works, the grandparents take care of the child. While the mother is expected to take jobs like teaching or banking, her exploring and being outgoing to take up challenging tasks and high profile jobs is looked down upon. She has to take the harsh decision of choosing between what she wants more and what is expected out of her.

It is not that she lacks efficiency but the dual burden makes it difficult for her to handle both, thus defining the why she “can’t have it all”. This “all” is always defined in a way that makes it difficult for us to differentiate between her needs and her desires, her expected roles and her capabilities. Often this leads to us saying, “women can’t work hard”, “they take too many leaves”, “they can’t give in extra hours”. Saying all this, we ignore the root of the problem and on the surface, think that the solution is to not employ women at all.

“Who doesn’t want to give efficiency? But with dual burden of children and work, we just fall flat. Our society thinks its only mothers job to take care of the children. But now that we work, do we get enough support from our environment? No.”

Gender needs is a very broad term to look at here. With the changing social and global roles, the practical and strategic gender needs have evolved too. What can be done to make them more efficient? Maternal leave? Crèche facilities at work place? What is it that can be provided from thegovernment or organizations that make them more at ease?

A Practical Gender Need (PGN) would be to have a crèche available in the vicinity/workplace, a long term impact-creating Strategic Gender Need (SGN) would be to create a Bill that promotes the women’s participation in decision making acknowledging the changing gender relations and roles of men and women in the society. 

Creches: Facilitating functioning at multiple levels

In India, nuclear families are growing, with the middle class growing dramatically, especially in urban areas. The traditional concept of joint families has shifted and so the need for caregivers and caretakers of the children has taken a turn too. The old idea of grandparents taking care of children is changing and there is a strong need to create spaces of support for these couples and most importantly, the women looking to balance work and family.

After all, the modern Indian family has the woman donning multiple roles of wife, mother and business executive. Each of these roles demands her very best. And because of her changing role, there is an increasing need for a support system other than family to help balance home and work. No longer is it a social stigma if the woman looks at child-care options to look after her child while she works. This is indicated by the growing number of daycare centres, nurseries and pre-schools in India’s largest cities.

And it is not just the women who will benefit for the crèches in establishments as they move away from the stereotypes related to working of women. Companies will become more employee-friendly, improve their image along with the reduced attrition of working parents. The financial stress on parents will be reduced as both participate in childcare. A child will remain close to parents during early childhood and the grandparents will find time for themselves, and the freedom to pursue hobbies.

“ I left my job because I had to start a family and none of the work places gave me the space to take care of my child alongside. It is expected from the mother to leave her job.”

“My friend is delaying having a baby because she knows that once that happens, she will be stuck between the two – family and work. Obviously, she will have to give up work.”

The history of legislation on creches in India

In the case of Indian women who are still struggling to find a space in the decision making of this country and their own homes, having a bill that makes it mandatory to have certain rights given to her at the work place will only make her task much more efficient and hasten development of family and work spaces too.

It is not that such a bill hasn’t been thought of ever. We have had systems that have tried to create such a support structure through government interventions. One of this has been the Rajiv Gandhi National Crèche Scheme for Children of Working Mothers currently covering tribal, rural and urban children across 449 districts. And in 2013, the Ministry of Women and Child Development passed a resolution (No. 16-1/2012-CW-I) to “provide and promote crèche and day care facilities for children of working mothers, mothers belonging to poor families, ailing mothers and single parents.”

While this is laudable, if a crèche facility is mandatory for factories, plantations and beedi and cigarette workers, what is stopping the government from making it mandatory for private companies?

In 2006, a draft bill on Crèches in Establishments was proposed but was stalled without any reason with no document available till date. The Country’s National Policy for Children talks about providing and promoting crèche and day care facilities for children of working mothers, mothers belonging to poor families, ailing mothers.

A Working group on Development of Children in the XIth Five Year Plan also looked at expanding the National Creche Scheme for children of working mothers so as to increase the number of crèches for children from 30,000 to 100,000 by 2012 and also support single parents. Though there has been a frequent mention on development of new legislation for crèches and day care services for children, a concrete step is still not taken.

How can we promote more creches at work?

There are a few organizations that are committed to campaigning in India for the rights of survival, development and protection among poor and underprivileged 0-to-6-year-olds like the Forum of Creche and Childhood Services. But there is a strong need that we take this to a higher level of including establishments like the multinationals and other corporate firms with women employees to include such structures as a mandate in their companies.

It is time we as women working and facing such issues and including our male counterparts take this issue forward. Its time we advocate the reopening and drafting of a Bill for ‘Crèches in Establishments’.

During these discussions, I came to know about a campaign that has been started at the Greenpeace website in this regard which points out the need to make crèches at workplace a rule. While it’s a story of how a woman left her job for her daughter, it is the story of many of us. We always talk about issues, here is how we participate and advocate in action mode!

Go ahead. Sign the petition for the benefit of many.

She says, ‘women can’t have it all’. I say, let’s facilitate them towards the direction of having what they can completely, with efficiency.

Pic credit: opensource.com (Used under a cc license)

A Development Communication & Social Work professional working in the field of gender, health and technology

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  1. Thanks for citing my petition. Wonderful article and well researched! A mother CAN continue working without worrying about her child’s safety! This is possible if creches at all workplaces become compulsory. In 2013, the Ministry of Women and Child Development passed a resolution (No. 16-1/2012-CW-I) to “provide and promote crèche and day care facilities for children of working mothers, mothers belonging to poor families, ailing mothers and single parents.

    Let’s make this happen! Please help me get support for my campaign by sharing this link as widely as you can! http://www.greenpeacex.in/petitions/make-creches-at-workplaces-a-rule-not-an-exception?bucket=ww

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