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Without the inclusion of its women in the workforce, India’s dream of being a great revered nation will remain just that, a dream. But when will we support ambition in women and make it easier for them?
Women and men both are pillars of a family and by extension that of the whole society. While the law provides equal rights to both, in practice there is a world of difference between men and women’s actual and perceived roles and responsibilities. A case in point is that of women who work.
The acceptance of women as working professionals with a fully functioning and well-defined world outside their homemaker role is an idea that is still alien to our society. Men still find it difficult to accept that women are capable of working at par with them, and mostly visualize their role in the family kitchen. Women also face lots of challenges at the workplace in the form of gender bias and lack of female role models, which undermines their confidence and ability to nurture their own ambitions in the long run.
Career opportunities for women in India have expanded multifold. Parents today spend a fortune trying to get their daughters educated and employable but at the same time the expectation that girls play traditional roles in families remain strongly rooted. Obtaining higher education and skills is only one part of the jigsaw puzzle. Women need proper mentoring, support, encouragement, role models and conducive work environment to actualize those skill sets into career growth paths.
A friend of mine who has two school going kids spends her entire day juggling family duties ranging from getting up early in the morning, making kids ready, dropping them off to school, running errands outside, coming home in time for preparing family lunch, cleaning, and finishing laundry just in time to go and pick up kids from school, feed and bathe them, then run across to drop them off to extra classes, play dates, pick them up, be in time for evening meal prep, feed, clean, put kids to bed, and go to sleep only to get up in the morning and repeat the whole cycle all over again.
Keep in mind that she does all this while managing her part-time office work from home at the same time. All this causes visible stress and anxiety throughout the day and forces her to reconsider her decision to work every day. This routine is representative of lots of working women in India.
A working couple I know would both reach home from work at the same time in the night but while the husband would sit on the couch and unwind with a TV remote, the wife would catapult herself into the kitchen, get food on the table and parallel to this keep on checking up on their kids’ homework.
Women are expected to punch out the timesheet in a punctual manner every day so as to return home on time to cook, clean and complete household chores. Men who try to reach out and help in the family chores are looked upon as exceptions and usually glorified for having made a cup of tea or washed the dishes.
As every minute is of crucial importance in a woman’s daily schedule, she does not waste time gossiping or taking umpteen tea breaks in the office as lots of her male colleagues do. In terms of her ambitions and career growth, it often means she gets left out in informal discussions and social bantering where lots of discussions regarding projects and team formations take place.
Socializing activities and performing religious duties at home are mostly defined as women’s roles as the primary onus of decking up, preparing elaborate meals and going on fast on religious occasions falls on women. It is logistically not possible for working women to perform all the religious duties and attend all social functions further raising questions from friends and family members.
A common notion is that women leave the workforce for rearing of children and taking care of the family. However, many women do want to come back to work even after having children provided there are adequate opportunities provided to them.
Most often than not parents feel hesitant in leaving their children in the care of full-time maids or creches. In such situations, it is women who drop their careers in favour of men who feel that it is their birthright to continue working while the wife should handle the home turf and do the school run. There are very few opportunities for doing remote work on a regular basis. Flexible timings and stay at home arrangements for work purpose are still provided by very few companies as viable options.
One of my friends, Neha, travels to work at 7:30 a.m. by an autorickshaw before hopping on to the city’s subway network mostly standing for an hour’s ride and returns home the same way at 8 in the night spending 2.5 to 3 hours in commuting every day. She has immense support and assistance from her spouse in managing the home.
But all that pales in face of the umpteen instances of risk and insecurity she faces on the road every day, the mindless time and energy she spends on road because there are no other means to commute, the constant nagging both the parents feel at the back of their minds about the health, safety and security of their school-going daughter who they leave behind with friends and family.
She has devoted the last six years of her life to this company, working her way up from an assistant executive to a manager.
She does not like the feeling of an automaton that has crept into her gradually over the years. How she wished she could save time commuting and spend those precious minutes developing a hobby, doing exercise or enjoying quality time with her family. How she wished her workplace offered flexible timings and work from home options.
The paycheck at the end of the month makes her feel secure and gives her a sense of financial independence. She wants to work and aim for the senior management role, but she knows deep down that taking time off now or going on a sabbatical will greatly reduce her chances of getting a promotion. So, she ploughs on, hoping that her family will flourish, and convincing herself that she is happy in the present state.
Increase in stress levels, depression and its related disorders is a direct outcome of such everyday workplace issues. Trying to justify the very grounds they stand on is a debilitating factor for women’s psyche and affects the family’s overall health and happiness as well.
For a lot of women, the option to continue work while managing children and family often comes down to choices. The decision involves a lot of introspection and resetting of priorities in their lives. There is no right or wrong answer but often we need to decide what is the best course of action to be taken in a given point of time keeping in mind one’s own health and well-being to which the family’s health and well-being are related.
All this makes us question whether we, as a society, have created avenues for women to fulfill their ambition of being earning members of their families but at the same time have put constraints in the way of family obligations, lack of role models and meager support system.
The daily routines of women who juggle both family and work are nothing short of heroic. Hats off to such women for chugging along with a resolute gait and flair in their stride throwing all self-doubt in the face of those who still look upon girls as a species from another planet. Women play a crucial role in scientific research, finance, politics, medicine, education, healthcare, in short, the entire gamut of industries that help to grow the economy. Without the inclusion of its women, the dream of being a great revered nation will remain just that, a dream. In order to be counted among the league of developed nations with a surging economic growth, India has no way but to wrench out the proper share of respect, dignity, and rights that its women deserve to work, live, and thrive well.
Image source: a still from the movie Aamhi Doghi
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