|HER WORLD||Sunday, May 11, 2003, Chandigarh, India|
I feel strongly about...
Storming a male bastion
What does a working woman wish for is not articulated because she feels there's no point in wishing for change. Sakuntala Narasimhan analyses findings of a recent survey among Bangalore's urban working women.
HOW do urban middle class working women in India apportion their daily hours between different obligations? What would they like to see changed? The stereotype of the average working woman: Someone who rushes through the breakfast schedule, sends the kids off to school with packed lunch, and sees the husband off to his workplace. All this before she rushes to the bus stop to get to her own office on time. She gets home in the evening exhausted but obliged to take on the chores in the kitchen, preparing dinner, supervising the children's homework, and planning the next day's grind.
But how does she really spend her time? How much of it is spent on each of her duties, and where does she prefer to turn for support or help? What does she wish for that is not articulated because she feels there's no point in wishing for change? These were some of the questions raised in a recent survey among Bangalore's urban working women. The objective was to gain insights into the lives of employed women. And some of the answers were as unexpected as they were eloquent on what needs to be changed! Ninety one per cent of the respondents said they worked more than 40 hours a week (8 hours a day, 5 days a week) while 57 per cent put in more than 50 hours a week. Twenty-seven per cent of them worked 60 or more hours, implying an 8 am to 6 pm stint every day, except Sundays!
Almost one in five brought work home "every day". What do women enjoy if given the option and the time? "Gossiping, chatting, or shopping", says the stereotypical perception. But surprisingly, 45 per cent of the women said they wished they could spend more time "enjoying sports". Other options expressed were 'catching up on reading' (33 per cent) and 'being with family' (27 per cent). That only 27 per cent wanted more time with family was another surprise because the stereotypical view is that working women are laden with guilt feelings about being away from the family.
However, it would be interesting to compare this with the percentage of men who say they wished they could spend more time with their families! Only nine per cent of the women said they would like to spend more time attending social functions, debunking the preconceived notion of the gregarious female. What would women like to spend less time on? Instead of 'the drudgery of housework', 45 per cent of the women bemoaned the time spent on commuting to and from work. (If there is money for buying a vehicle, presumably the male earner gets priority, while the woman sticks to buses or other means of commuting, which take more time.)
Attending meetings was what 12 per cent of the women desired to spend less time on while a surprisingly low three per cent mentioned 'attending official/business functions'. On the other hand, and predictably, only three per cent wanted less time spent on trips abroad. In response to a list of "ways" that helped them manage time better, 42 per cent of the women said a 'to-do daily list' helped them significantly.
Only one in three (33 per cent) said they preferred to delegate more work to colleagues or subordinates. What 36 per cent of the women respondents wished for was an "efficient secretary" who could be relied upon for a satisfactory discharge of the workload. Which, as it turns out, is not very different from the comment one working woman made, when asked why she remained single. "What I need," she said, "is not a husband but a wife, to provide the support services that husbands automatically expect from their wives—standing in queues to pay the bills, staying at home for the gas cylinder delivery, the electrician or the carpenter..."
It also partially explains the 'glass
ceiling' professional women come up against: it is assumed that a woman,
whatever her position, will attend to at least part of her own
secretarial needs because women "naturally do these support
services". Whereas a male official is assumed to deserve a
secretary's assistance to leave him free to concentrate on the
'important' work while his secretary fetches coffee, answers the phone,
clears his table, files away his correspondence, attends to his visitors
and keeps them entertained. In addition, she is ready to pop out during
her lunch hour to purchase his birthday gift for his wife... "No,
that stereotype is also being demolished," insists Nandita, a
secretary who refuses to take on chores that are not part of the job she
was hired for. But, as Priya, another secretary/receptionist, points
out, it is not enough for women to change their attitudes. "It is
also necessary for the male psyche to change so that bosses don't ask us
to provide these extra services. That would be real attitudinal
liberation, for both males and females at the workplace." Now that
women have spoken out about what they take on and what they would like
to see changed, it is time for similar surveys among men—bosses as
well as employees—to see what they have to say on the same issues.
Every ‘guru’ in every field is telling us: “Be positive”. Then why is the MIL-DIL relationship, which is at the heart of family harmony, still relegated to the archives of negativity? Why can the duo not take charge of its relationship and generate warmth and harmony in the house, asks Meera Malik
The newly-weds were going around their flat. The bridegroom was proudly pointing out the various features. The radiant bride gushed, even as she suggested certain improvements. Finally, pointing to a portrait the groom said, "Isn’t that a beautiful portrait of my mother?" "I think it will look much better with a garland on it," replied the coy bride.
EVEN as the bride-to-be is congratulated about her engagement and the ‘prize catch’, there are remarks about the mother-in-law (MIL) — "She is so fat". "She is so skinny." "She is too smart", "she is so dowdy", "she is too sweet to be true" or she is so arrogant". These are, in fact, a part of the congratulatory package. The young bride-to-be who had found the woman pleasant enough, begins to be apprehensive. In any case, was she not always told since her childhood that, "Don’t slurp your tea or your MIL will ...", "Learn to cook or your MIL" ...., "Speak softly or your MIL ....". The warnings were always left menacingly mid-sentence. The ogre had grown over the years and she was finally to come face to face with it!
As the jubilant mother prepares for her son’s wedding, her ‘well-wishers’ tut, tut, "A son is a son till he’s wed, a daughter is a daughter till she’s dead." Another friend remarks consolingly, "Your son is sensible but ..." Another, one not taking any chances with your knowledge of English, translates it into Punjabi, "rupiya bhunaya te gya, munda vihaya to gya (once you get change for a rupee it’s spent, similarly when you wed a son, he is gone). The middle-aged, menopausal woman fighting her other insecurities breaks into a cold sweat, as she imagines the apple of her eye being stolen by the seductress and hidden completely from the mother’s fond eyes!
The films and the TV soaps are no help. They move from one extreme to the other. The MIL is either an ogre-like Lalita Pawar, constantly conniving and maltreating the daughter-in-law (DIL); or a cow-like Nirupa Roy, sacrificing everything for her weakling son and clutching desperately at her mangalsutra. Again the DIL is either a fiend like Bindu or Padma Khanna, whose sole mission in life is to break the family; or a cow-like Nutan or Waheeda Rehman suffering all the atrocities in silence, clutching desperately at her mangalsutra and waiting patiently (for what: Their turn ??)
For heaven’s sake are we living in a time-warp? This is the 21st century, with women re-inventing themselves in every role, to lead a happy, harmonious, fulfilling and rewarding life. Every ‘guru’ in every field is telling us: "Be positive". Then why is the MIL-DIL relationship, which is the heart of family harmony, still relegated to the archives of negativity?
The only way out for the MIL-DIL duo is to take their fate in their own capable hands, transcend the social milieu, and laugh off the suggestions of their ‘well-wishers’. They must work at the relationship, just as we work at a new friendship. They must build bridges of understanding; identify their common interests (apart from the ‘hero’ of the story), pursue these and spend time together. If there are any areas where there is a serious clash, they must endeavour to find a common ground. They may agree to disagree on certain issues.
It is imperative for the older woman to take the lead ... after all she has been there. She must accept the DIL as her child. How strongly we rationalise and defend our own child’s bad habits! How grossly unfair it is then to put the new child’s weaknesses under the microscope? The younger woman must respond with warmth and affection. She must value and respect the filial bond between her husband and his mother. With a little effort two intelligent, sensitive women can forge a bond where they are mutually assured of affection, respect and, good faith. The rest is easy.
It is the joint responsibility of these two women to nurture the man to become the ‘Man of the Match’. And not reduce him to the caricature-spectator, who looks from one to the other — afraid of one and terrified of the other and torn between the two. It devolves upon the mother to let go off her son and do so with dignity and grace without making him feel guilty.
In any case, I think the
two women owe it to each other — to become good friends. Each would
enrich the relationship: the wisdom and experience of the older woman
and the vigour and pragmatism of the younger one, add a dash of humour
and you have a winning combination, always and every time. The two can
blossom and evolve together, "till death do us part".
I feel strongly about...
MADHU Sahani waits in pain for her unplanned pregnancy to be terminated, as the doctor readies the equipment. This is her fifth abortion and it took the doctor three days to bring her blood pressure down. Madhu, 33 years and weighing 89kg, till late, worked in an IT firm.
She did try various methods of contraception; Cu T led to excessive bleeding hence had to be stopped; pills were administered but had to be stopped as she suffered from overweight and high BP. And as for condoms, her husband does not like and sterilisation he does not permit. And when the doctor suggests a contraceptive plan to the husband for the nth time, the answer was "may be in next summer".
But is Madhu is alone? Does the onus of contraception still lie on women? Is she not made to believe that if she does not want to get pregnant, she might as well do something about it?
"Absolutely! The onus of contraception has forever been on the women,' says Yashbala Verma, a practising gynaecologist in the city. "However educated or upwardly mobile the couple be, never has any husband ever come forward and said that he would like to have a contraception for himself and not his wife," she adds.
"The stereotypes of a male-dominated society are so strongly engraved in us that we women easily give in to men, especially when it comes to sexual superiority," says Jaswant Kaur, a nurse at Govt Medical College and Hospital. "When I got married and we discussed contraception, we only talked about all the methods I can pick (that too with his approval) and not once did we consider that even he too could opt for something," she recalls. "The phrase repeated all through was 'what if you get pregnant' while, it should have been 'what if we conceive a child'," adds Jaswant.
"Well, in my case we both were seeing each other for two years before we got married. So we were quite open with each other. I made it very clear from the beginning of our marriage that I would not take any contraceptive pills due to the side-effects hence it was our mutual decision to use condoms," adds Anjali Pathak. "I think that the equation has changed now, because today women are fifty per cent partners in every aspect of life," she observes.
But has the equation really changed? After braving (more than) fifty per cent of the responsibilities, can she really make those vital decisions for herself?
"To me it doesn't seem so. Though I would agree that there has been a change in the attitudes. Now the couples are becoming more open and free in their discussions and men do realise it as their joint responsibility, but contraception is still a woman's responsibility," Yashbala adds. "Though the equation does not balance, but still I feel it to be in favour of women at times. Just consider if the women had to depend for contraception on her husband, she would have been miserable," says S.K. Bhatia, a practising gynaecologist. "I feel it's not possible for men to realise the gravity of the situation as they do not have to go through the physical pain. When a woman comes to me for a successive abortion or a related issue, I scold her. Even though the husband is equally at fault, but does not have go through the humiliation and pain that the woman then goes through," she adds. In the ultimate analysis, it remains the sole responsibility of the woman.
Some blame it on the
stereotypes and some on more methods of contraception available for
women, but the truth is that contraception is still the onus of women.
May it'll take us some more time before we are free to take all the
decisions regarding our body ourselves. Whose line is it anyway?
Storming a male bastion
Women in industrialised western India have made inroads into technical jobs but the feudal North is still holding a barrier against them. They need to be enlightened that the time has come to put back the scrub and wield the spanner, says Ritu Sharma
WOMEN’S participation in the industrial job market has been mostly dismal in northern region of India. Although some progress is visible in the upper rungs with women engineers foraying into industrial jobs but this, by no means, is a satisfactory picture. With the agriculture sector becoming more mechanised, the traditional employment sector for women is diminishing. This creates unemployment for women from the lower echelons of society. In case they need to supplement their family income or, in some cases, to earn bread for their family, the options available to them are low-paid jobs, mostly as domestic helps. A close examination reveals that the problem is multi-dimensional. A lower rate of induction in jobs, coupled with stagnation in their career progress makes industry virtually a forbidden arena for women.
Women themselves are to be blamed for holding on to stereotypes. Industrial work, mostly machine-driven these days, does not demand muscle power. However, women still consider technical jobs as an exclusively male domain and do not strive to acquire these skills. How many women do we see enrolling in ITIs to learn the engineering trades? Truly, it is more because of social norms that women do not dare to venture in these areas but they will have to rise above these taboos.
Even if they are working in an industry, then women’s participation is normally seen in soft jobs such as packaging or cleaning etc. They do not try to operate, maintain or repair machinery.
Even the industry management hardly ever tries to encourage women to take up these jobs or to train them in key areas of production. Consequently, they are reckoned as a non-performing segment of the workforce and at the time of promotion they are conveniently overlooked. This remains true even in case of the public sector enterprises.
Labour unions too cannot be spared. The union is largely a male bastion with women given only a symbolic representation. Union leaders seldom bother to promote the cause of women as this will mean a lost opportunity for a member of the powerful male fraternity. Naturally, for them this risk is not worth taking.
Unless development takes
place at all the levels of society it cannot be indicative of progress.
Time has come to make women aware of the changing times and groom them
to face future challenges. Today financial independence has become the
key to empowerment. In such times, staying away from a potential
employment sector will only weaken the position of women. Women in
industrialised western India have made inroads into technical jobs but
the feudal North is still holding a barrier against them. They need to
be enlightened that the time has come to put back the scrub and wield