Indian Women Are Still Fighting for Their Rights to Work in Shrinking Spaces

It is astonishing how something as small as a woman going to work can cause so much tension in the family and in a country where the men work and women look after the home and children, many women are only “allowed” to work due to financial instability. On one hand, women are fighting for their rights to a sexual-harassment free workplace, the rest of Indian women are fighting for the right to actually work a paid job. A basic and fundamental right that will help them gain financial independence and respect in their homes, India continues to hold one of the world’s lowest percentage of working women. Just 27 percent of Indian women work paid jobs outside their homes. Compared to the rest of East Asia where about two-thirds of women work, India is lagging behind and women are being held back from their career dreams. Much of the rest of the world had women come off the fields to work in manufacturing jobs and factory work, however, in India this has not been the case.

It looks bad for the men if the wife has to work

“We don’t have that story. We are not creating manufacturing jobs,” says feminist economist Nisha Agrawal, former director of Oxfam India. While this may be true for rural India, things are as grim as ever in urban India where the richer one is, the more likely they will be pulled out of the workforce or pull themselves out. Agrawal adds, “Men are saying that they don’t want their wives to work. It’s the whole patriarchy thing. It looks bad for the men if they can’t provide for their whole family and the wife has to work.” Social norms in India have shown time and again that they are a strong barrier in preventing women from getting jobs and retaining them.

Indian women need a change in mindsets

Moreover, the Indian government past and present have not tackled this issue head one. While the focus has been on educating and protecting women and young girls, much has not been spoken about women going to work and earning a living even after marriage and children. A majority of working women in India are working because they don’t have a choice, though there are some who work because they want a career. While there has been some talk about reservation to boost women’s participation in the workforce, but this will not help since what women need is a change in the mindset and the desire for companies to hire talented women. The stereotype that “women shouldn’t work after marriage” should be done away with. Though reservation many help level the playing field at the workplace, it might make the environment more hostile since employers will be forced to increase the number of women workers. “Zia Mody, Co-founder, AZB & Partners, said, “Hire us because you want to, because we are good and because you are willing to train us and invest in us; not because you have to. What is India going to do to keep women from leaving their jobs?” Statistics say that more than 48 percent of women who join the workforce eventually quit their jobs.

The burden of housework and childcare lies on women alone

However, apart from regressive social norms, there are also other factors at play that prevent women from working and continuing to work like men. Practical issues like long commutes on crowded public transportation systems which makes for both uncomfortable and inconvenient traveling along with safety concerns is something that women fo have to consider more than men. The massive burden of childcare and household chores is something women have to worry about constantly. Also, Indian families whose daughters go to work worry about their interaction with men at work and live in fear of their safety and would make them quit their jobs at the first sign of harassment of any kind.

Women’s earnings are often controlled by the men in the family

At the moment, Indian women produce a mere 17 percent of the country’s GDP which is among the lowest in the world. In the last twenty years, the Indian economy has grown about 7 percent and in spite of data showing that education, fertility and maternal mortality rates among women have grown creating an ideal situation for women to work. However, this has not helped women join the workforce. On the other hand, the women who do work are still being controlled by the men in the families, especially their earnings. Women are still leaving money matters to their fathers, husbands, and sons and are not taking control of their own investments.

Today, with India’s #MeToo movement already underway, it is too early to say how this will affect working women in India now and in the future. Aparna Jain, a corporate leadership coach said, “The easiest thing to do is say, ‘we’re not going to hire women’. It’s the coward’s way out. We have to focus on the companies making an affirmative change.” We all will just have to wait and see how these things pan out in the coming months and years.

Image credit: Livemint

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