Women are biggest hurdles to women’s progress; more so in India

Two of my Indian friends are expecting a baby – both of them are women who have “chosen” not to work after marrying men who are better qualified then them – what shocked me was the blatant way in which both of them said they want a baby boy (they have not used any tests to determine the gender of the baby). I asked one of them why she wouldn’t want a baby girl; she pondered and then said “I don’t mind having a second child as a girl so that I have something to decorate” – I was aghast at hearing this, was she talking about a human being or a Christmas tree (sorry about the bad joke while I am trying to write a serious piece, but well, you get the point). I really wanted to ask these women if they feel so inferior/ worthless about being women that they don’t want to be responsible for bringing a girl child into the world – but there are some boundaries one doesn’t cross while dealing with not-so-close-friends! If these women would have a baby girl, they would surely try again for a boy. This incident took me back to the conversation I had with my domestic help who never had the privilege to go to school and had 5 children (all girls) in her quest to have a baby boy to please her husband – I was explaining to her to not have any more children and send her girls to school – what is the difference between this domestic help and these friends of mine who want a baby boy! Doesn’t it prove that the education that these friends of mine underwent was a waste if they think in such a manner, which is regressive according to me?

We are no longer living in an age when we need to hunt to feed ourselves – in which case it still makes some sense that men being physically stronger would go out and hunt while the women stayed at home to take care of other chores. In today’s world, the weapon is education and it is gender neutral! Let me exemplify what I am saying. I have another friend who married her boyfriend right after graduation – her then boyfriend and now husband is a qualified chartered accountant. He is an ambitious guy and moved geographies to progress in his career. My friend found it difficult to get a job outside India so she requested her husband to move back to India and this is what her husband had to say “If you can find a job in India that will pay you as much as I make here and I will gladly move back and also become a house husband”. He said this knowing very well that this would not be possible at all. I would have given this guy one tight slap and walked out of the marriage. But my friend didn’t have the “weapon”, i.e. professional education to be able to stand on her feet confidently and has given up on all her aspirations, dreams and hopes or as the MCPs would like to put it; made her husband’s dream her dream!

The biggest challenge we are facing today (not only in India, globally) is the lack of equal number of women in higher/ professional/ specialised education. In India, it’s a bigger problem with the girl child not treated at par with her brothers! If I visit someone and they make their daughter get water, make tea, help in the kitchen while the son gets to sit around playing computer games; I never like to revisit them – as this says a lot about their thinking and most of them are quite open about it; the women of the household will say they are “grooming” the girl for marriage and sending the son for education abroad. In some cases I have also seen that they encourage the girl to study so that she gets an even better qualified husband, in this case the educational qualification of the girl being of greater importance on her marital CV. The easiest way to control women is to not allow them any financial/ economic freedom; i.e. not allow them to earn money. To ensure that not too many women go out and hunt, i.e. earn money, our society does a fantastic job of not giving them the required weapons, i.e. education. Of course it would be wrong to paint all Indian families with the same brush, but unfortunately majority do fall into the stereotype I mentioned above. I admire and respect families where they don’t differentiate among siblings on basis on gender. I came across an interesting article recently written by a Canadian journalist who lives in Delhi (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/home/sunday-toi/special-report/Free-societies-like-respect-free-women/articleshow/5908488.cms) she has described how “Critics say the family has gone haywire in the western world because of the feminist revolution. Women’s rights and their increasing economic power has seen divorce rates shoot up drastically”. This is very true as most of the times I come across women at work who are divorcees; being financially independent helped them to step out of a bad marriage unlike some others I know who suffer silently as they are completely dependent on their husbands. Walking out of the marriage to them would mean going to their aging parents and they think it’s not right to stress their parents at this age with their marital woes! Often my guy friends have told me “it’s different for you, you are a girl; tomorrow you can just choose to stay at home” – this is where the problem lies, working should not be a choice. Women should work; whatever work they like to do and be financially independent ALL their lives. On a separate note, I would be very interested in carrying out a survey of batches of 1988-1992 from the top b-schools in India and check how many of the women from the prestigious b-schools of our country have given up their career for the larger good of the family – as this is another problem, but at least these women have the education and can work again if they want to. Just think of how many atrocities against women would decrease if more and more women would pursue higher education and work thereafter. In some cases, I have friends who were threatened by their parents that they would commit suicide if she doesn’t marry. This comes from a stupid belief of some Indian parents, more so mothers, that if one is getting a “good match” then one should not let go of it even if it means that the guy’s family expects the girl to discontinue her education and not work.

A lot of the women in the lower classes of society in India actually work; but the work they do is not white-collar work. Most women in the upper classes are business women or high flying socialites; in any case they are a very small number when compared to the overall population of India. So when I say women are creating hurdles to progress of other women, I largely mean the great Indian middle class. Amidst all the IPL controversy recently, a journalist wrote that “we should not forget we live in the times of sunanda pushkar and sania mirza” – while these 2 women are strong headed, rebellious and hence the target of gossip columnists, what we should really not forget is that we live in the country of Rani Laksmibai and Indira Gandhi! So while we talk of women’s reservation in the parliament and in the IIMs, we should walk the talk as women, as mothers, by not differentiating between genders!

In the meantime; I pray that the two friends of mine whom I mentioned at the beginning do NOT have baby girls – not for their sake, but for the sake of the girl child!

17 Responses to Women are biggest hurdles to women’s progress; more so in India

  1. Pallavi says:

    nothing can beat this mind set…. are we really in the 21st century?

  2. neha says:

    Your line “Women should work; whatever work they like to do and be financially independent ALL their lives. ” makes me wonder if you are indeed taking away women’s choices?

    I work because I prefer financial independence. But a lot of women work and promptly go and place their salaries in their parents’/in-laws’ hands. Working doesn’t imply financial independence.

    But let’s think back about childcare. Providing childcare if a parent isn’t around is often prohibitively expensive. Depending on your skills/ abilities – you may find it more cost-effective to have one parent stay at home rather than pay for childcare. Unfortunately, men are more likely to be qualified than women ‘within relationships’. This often has something to do with the fact that women are encouraged to ‘marry up’ – i.e. marry someone with more skills/ more earning capacity.

    The biggest challenge is not higher education, it’s just getting the average 6 year old girl into primary education. Primary education in India is crumbling, in far worse shape than higher education. But young ones can’t vote, so that’s never going to be an issue..

  3. Roy says:

    i so agree with you. I used to think my parents were liberal but was disappointed to see them look for a husband for her.

  4. samta says:

    Neha – agree completely on your point that working doesn’t imply financial independence; specially in families where salary is to be handed over to husband/ FIL.
    When I say financially independent it could be in different ways; earning and investing wisely to say build a house to have rental income/ dividend income, etc. Basically some back up which is only for the woman thats provides financial security in case something goes wrong.

    And as for primary education, as you see I am saying the same; that the girl child should be treated at par with the boy; i.e. sent to school and elsewhere I have mentioned how going to school is a privilege for women from some sections of our society.

    Since like you rightly say young ones can’t vote; mothers need to understand that there is NO difference between a girl and a boy! If at all, girls are more hardworking and sincere.

  5. samta says:

    Neha – missed the point I wanted to make about childcare. We in India are in fact luckier than our western counterparts to have so much help from extended family/ as well as domestic help readily available. I am not saying its easy for both parents to work while ensuring a good upbringing of kids but one can look at “work from home”, “flexi hours” (and this should not be only the woman; even a guy can work from home if required). or one can use the extended network available in India. Its challenging but not impossible!

  6. HS says:

    “more so mothers, that if one is getting a “good match” then one should not let go of it even if it means that the guy’s family expects the girl to discontinue her education and not work”

    I so agree with you on this point. Not only parents but also well meaning friends from the same generation kind of endorse this view.

    I am one of the fortunate few girls whose parents felt it was important for a girl child to have an education which they would have given a son. I was fortunate enough to go to an ivy for my masters. I have heard comments from a number of friends from India ( women) and also mothers of grooms on the unsuitability of a well educated only girl child of being an ‘adjusting wife’.

  7. another neha says:

    Responding just to the first section of your article.

    I’d like a son too – simply because I grew up with brothers, married a man and just like the company of boys… nothing to do with salary, independence or anything else… why is having a choice a matter of such shock? I am sure once I have a daughter, i will find dressing her up a lot of pleasure – so much variety!!

    and eventually, any child that I have won’t be like anything i expected and eventually turn me insane with the worry and care of bringing them up…

  8. Ramya says:

    Your line – Often my guy friends have told me “it’s different for you, you are a girl; tomorrow you can just choose to stay at home” – this is where the problem lies, working should not be a choice. Women should work; whatever work they like to do and be financially independent ALL their lives.

    This could be problematic because, like Neha said above, it is like taking away the choice from the person. I think its important that women have the necessary skills and qualifications to secure gainful employment, but whether to work or not should be a choice (provided the partner is willing to support them, of course) – and this choice should be equally applicable to men as well as women (which isn’t the case now)

  9. Ashvaruda says:

    To understand why the two women answered that way, one need’s to understand their backgrounds.For Indian women, education is only a tool for career progress. Either by marriage or getting a job and then marrying. In fact, if women were honest enough, almost all women do feel getting married is of crucial importance. It is that way with men too, only difference it is not of ‘primary’ importance.
    Let us examine the background- both the women decided to quit working after ‘marrying men more qualified’, did this translate into upward economic status for the women? If so, they were doing what nature dictates.Giving their half of the genes in the forthcoming offspring better chances of survival. Both women could now ‘afford’ to quit working and concentrate on their ‘genetic extensions’.At least in the initial stages. Later they could always get to work if they are willing and avenues are available!
    Now as to why they preferred ‘male’ offspring….
    For this, we need to know:
    From which region are their spouses? Males from Punjab, Haryana,Rajasthan, Bihar & UP are generally notorious for their intolerance of female offsprings.
    From which region are the women themselves? Females from the above mentioned states are also notorious for preferring male children. The rationale is simple; it is easier to emotionally control the male offspring especially if you have pampered and spoiled him in the initial stages and rendered him an emotional midget. The only female he will respect is his ‘mother’ the ‘Ma’. The problem does not lie on economic independence, but on emotional dependence! For an Indian women re-marriage after widowhood/divorce is unthinkable. Due to conditioning, not of the women’s minds but the men’s mind.Note, even today, for an educated average Indian (never mind whether RI /NRI / Offsite Indian) ‘deflowering’ a virgin on ‘His’ wedding night is an expected thrill. So, is it so incomprehensible that a woman, even if she were to be financially independent should try to hedge herself against future physical & emotional dependence by opting for a male offspring, who could somehow be manipulated into placing his ‘Ma’ over ‘Bibi’ ?
    Take the other side. If the spouses are from the adverse sex-ratio states (ASR) and the women also from the same state, then the women might have struggled against immense odds (first being born, accidentally) to get where they are now. Further, it is generally observed that in addition to being naturally inclined macho-ism, the ASR men are also racist in their preference for ‘fair/gori’ women. Taking all into consideration, the women may not, in all good faith want another being of her sex to come forth into the world to suffer. Besides, the women themselves have deficit emotional independence giving rise to irrational jealousy against any woman who would compete for the affection.
    Thus to conclude (and start of a post) based upon two women’s observations can only be termed as ‘hysterical’ (which men love to categorize as female reaction). The only reason why women fight other women (especially in their insane bid to outdo each other in physical charms & emotional manipulation) in work & domestic spheres is because they have already accepted that this is a man’s word and that a woman who can fool a man is a successful woman!

  10. Sumedha says:

    I don’t think I completely agree with your article. If one person in the marriage is going to stay home, it makes sense that it be the person who’s earning lesser. In many cases, this will be the woman because, as you said, women are many times not encouraged to study enough.

    Working IS a choice, for men and for women! I will definitely work, I need the financial independence; it’s not wrong for other women to not want that! I agree, many times, it’s not a conscious choice: women stay home because of husbands’ jobs, childcare, expectations from family etc. But to stay that financial independence is a must is not right either. My mother worked for 18 years, now she stays at home because she wanted to spend the few years before I leave for college with me and my sister. That’s not wrong.

    And about the friend whose husband moved abroad and refused to come back: doesn’t it make practical sense? if he’s earning more there, and moving back will mean that he makes lesser, it’s not very reasonable for him to move back, is it?

  11. samta says:

    On a date; a guy is always restless as he is wondering whether or not he will get “lucky” whereas the girl already KNOWS – Yes, its truly a man’s world my friend!
    I am referring to educated young India of 2010 my friend!
    In both the cases above, the women and their respective spouses are south Indians. In both cases; they have married their colleagues and left work. Now a point one of my friends who works for one of India’s top 3 IT companies comes to mind – he said that at the time of joining; at entry level the ratio of men and women is 50-50, at middle management its 75-25 and by the time you look at top management there are less than 10% women. Now this is also a company known for lot of its employees marrying each other and has policies in place for allowing men to propose to women employees once and if the woman says no; any further proposals would be taken up as harassment. Now would it be wrong to say a lot of the women who join this company are secretly nurturing dreams of finding the love of their life and may want to give up everything on finding the one – maybe not completely. Such women exist. Is there anything wrong with this kind of thinking – well; if it leads others to believe that all women will give up everything on finding the man of their dreams and they use this as a stereotype for all Indian women; career oriented women have to work doubly hard to be taken seriously!

    Now getting back to the point I was making in the above post:
    1. Women should be given the CHOICE to work – to give this choice would mean to provide them with education and NOT differentiate between boy and girl child while providing education – the point I am making is that most of the times this differentiation happens by the woman, the mother!
    2. Probably because women have seen the different treatment meted out to their brothers/ male cousins while growing up; they want to avoid having a girl – now somewhere there has to be an end to this – and that is not possible without women feeling capable/ empowered themselves to bring in another female into this world knowing that she will have equal rights as that of a male.
    3. When I say financial independence, I am not calling out to all women in India to burn bras and turn into female chauvinistic pigs (FCPs) – I am merely saying one should be financially independent; at least financially aware – today most women in India leave all the finances to be taken care by the husband, with the result that there are cases where men pass away, leaving behind wives who have no idea what their investments look like or even how to write a cheque. Both men and women can and should take career breaks. Women may want to be with their kids more – all I am saying is Indian women need to realize they can have it all – marriage, family, kids, job, financial independence – there is no need to be the great sacrifying bhartiya nari in 2010. Organizations are getting more and more aware of this and hence are going in for creches; flexi time options; and are willing to relocate employees if their spouse gets transferred – all this to retain women!
    4. About the friend whose husband refuses to move back, she is dying to work but is not qualified enough to get a job outside India – her husband should either help upgrade her skills by enrolling her in a course which may help her gain some employment on completion or think of moving back so that both of them could work in India – not taunt her by showing off his capability to earn whatever extravagant amount he does! In fact, if the guy is smart, he will see upgrading his wife’s career skills as an investment from the family point of view. And ya, though not relevant to the article, all his “earnings” go towards his savings for his dream car not for anything his wife needs.

  12. Chevalier says:

    It’s not a real ‘choice’ whether a woman works until it’s an equally complicated choice for a man whether he works or not. A woman choosing to stay at home in today’s world is NOT exercising her free will – it’s a loaded scale, tipped to one side.
    It starts with her education – women are usually encouraged to either not study as long as men are, or to get into ‘soft’ streams of study without much thought to future economic/earning potential (hence the vastly greater number of girls in arts courses – history, sociology, literature, etc. in India and also globally).
    And then, of course, it’s a slippery slope of choices – it’s harder for women to advance at work, they earn less for the same work (even in the US women earn 70 cents for every $1 a man makes, it’s significantly worse in India), they’re treated less seriously, their work less appreciated, and their working conditions more difficult (sexual harrassment at work, more difficult commutes, more judgement on extraneous factors eg. clothes and make-up, more changes to trip-up and go wrong vs a man). Third, at home, they end up working a second shift, with most home and child care and elder care responsibilities being shouldered by women – even if the men do ‘help’ at home, they’re just helping – the main responsibility is still the woman’s in most cases.
    Fourth, apart from just the chores & logistics, the blame of a dirty home or a misbhaving child is most often shouldered by the woman in-charge (it’s always ‘where’s mom’ if something goes wrong at school, for instance).
    Finally is the emotional ‘out’ that the man can and should be the financial ‘head of household’. A woman earning more than her male partner is often extremely guilt-ridden and MORE prone to domestic violence at the hands of a frustrated man.
    So, yeah – to all those women who commented above a la Charlotte in SATC ‘I choose my choice’ – women are slowly pushed out of the workforce at every step. It’s as much a real ‘choice’ to work or not to work as it is to practice, say, public nudity.

  13. Rasmussen says:

    It’s the varna system. To preserve stability of the society. Upstarts aren’t tolerated here. What does a fancy education know about our 1000 year culture. Absurd. Who will raise the babies? What’s the use of achievement? Our duty on earth is perpetuate our kind and growth is just a means to it. Our duty is to complete our lifecycle and end the misery of rebirth. Who cares about dignity, women’s rights etc. Arey baby. Leave knowledge in the college and make me a tea.

    Detect a flaw in that argument. It’s rational if you take the premise that we live for the sake of living peacefully. 21st century? Brahma’s one blink covers a yuga. What do we silly humans know about time?

    Our society is the best example of a rational society, which is why it took the catalyst of a Brit invasion to eradicate the ‘social evils’. Name one single social reformer before the Brits came. Not religious reformer. Social. (Akbar doesn’t fit). William Wilberforce-like at least.

    We are bred to be rational which is why we are so good at math and science. As for literature, they are rational too. Just look at the self-righteous SOBs heroes in Ramayana and Mahabaratha.

    (Western culture is irrational, thank God).

  14. An old post to comment on, but I had to. When you say all women SHOULD work, you’re denying them the right to choose. A lot of women go to work and come back and give the salary to the family. A lot of women like myself, stayed home for some years and the husband came back and gave me his salary 😉 So its really all about choice and attitude.

    Also, sadly, most of us no longer have extended family sitting around waiting to help. My mother is a business woman who is permanently attached to her laptop and blackberry. I cant expect her to give that up to raise my children. I might also not want to have my children raised by an uneducated woman who has a very different value system to mine, simply because I can afford to pay her while I go to work. walk into the average daycare and you will realise that not all the money on earth is worth putting your child into something so dirty and neglected. So very often the woman who stays home is because she wants her child to be raised her way. thats all. i am not saying there arent enough women being forced to do so. but there are plenty of educated and independent women making that choice freely. on the other hand, are our choices every really free? there are so many women who WANT to stay with their baby but cant afford it.

    Yes, I agree with you 100% on educating the girl child, on getting her to school. I like what Chevalier says, but its not so dire. I dont look at my education in arts as a liability. I in fact feel that I have more choices than the average man who HAS to earn for his family even if all he wants to do is paint. A woman can choose to leave her child in daycare and go back to work or even get a job after a maternity break. A man on the other hand will be laughed out of the work force if he shows a 3 year break on his CV as a paternity break.

    In our family my husband earns about 6 times what I earn. I’d be silly to tell him to stay home and have us all struggle on my meagre journalist’s salary, just to make a point.

    Finally, your friends who want sons, as you rightly said, deserve them. A girl child deserves a home she is wanted in. I knew a friend who wanted a son, years ago, and like you, I was horrified. I badly wanted my first baby to be a daughter and was most disappointed to have a son. Why is it acceptable to say you want a daughter but not to say that you want a son? What makes one set of reasons more valid than another?

    All in all – an enjoyable post and interesting comments. Thank you

  15. Sudarshan says:

    You can’t have the best of both worlds. Women in the corporate world expect that men would exhibit some “compassion” and understand that they cannot work post office hours. They expect equal treatment with benefits – Have to leave by 5:30 to feed the kids, have to get a transfer to where the husband is, don’t be too pushy as it is “that time of the month”, hold the door open.

    They do all this and expect why they don’t get the same salary as the peers, or why a man has gotten a promotion while she hasn’t.

    Of course, like the “typical” mentality you just described, not ALL women do this, but MOST of them do. This adequately explains why there are fewer women in top management.

  16. roopali says:

    I agree with you totally. I have come across many women who claim to be forward in every way except their ability to think or rationalize. And as you mentioned financial independence makes a huge difference. No matter how much a man loves his wife there will always be reservations when it comes to spending on wife. No man says “NO” to a woman who can pitch in and if that man does have a problem then that speaks volumes about his attitude. Plus work gives women exposure to other people who give them a new perspective. “Half the sky,” is one book that deals with this issue. Good posts keep it going!

Leave a Reply