In Focus

Women need to be treated on par with men

By Sonal Aggarwal

Women such as Rani Laxmi Bai, Sarojini Naidu and myriad others played pivotal roles in India’s independence movement. Indian women stood shoulder to shoulder with the men to bring India out of the shackle of the British. They rallied endlessly, marched for thousands of kilometres, face lathis and bullets with their men and completely embodied Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of a free India and Swarajya. Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (Azad Hind Fauj) was the first in the world to recruit women to fight against the British.

The norms that bind women or curb their freedom are a product of the patriarchal form of society. In India, except for a few tribal groups and some communities in South India, society is predominantly patriarchal and consequentially a driver for gender-based discrimination.

Oppressive practices, orthodox traditions and the custom of submission of women have created bias that has now acquired the status of a norm pervading socio-economic groups and even across culturally diverse communities.

The Human Development Report 2015, published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) stated that the world over, women undertake most of the unpaid housework and care-giving work in their homes and communities. The statistics reveal the stark discrimination against women that exists in workplaces.

The report goes on to reveal that “due to disproportionate workload in terms of care giving duties, women most often have less time for other activities such as paid work and education”. In a sample of 62 countries, it is interesting to note that “on an average 4.5 hours a day were devoted by men to social life and leisure while for women, the number of hours was reduced to 3.9 in India.”

At workplace, women do not get paid at the same terms as their male counterparts. Part of the problem is lack of self-assurance and confidence in women to exert their rights and the other part is presence of male superiors in the management who exercise personal bias. Many women drop out owing to lack of safety provisions at workplaces, often compounded by unsupportive families who use safety as an excuse to keep their women at home.

Not only there is a bias in hiring by organisations, there is a huge disparity in terms of remuneration, perks, facilities and provisions for promotion. Also, lack of creche, nursing rooms, even ‘clean’ toilets often dissuade women from working. Young mothers, pregnant women continuously face the fear of losing work.

Surprisingly, even educated working women seem socially ‘conditioned’ to comply to the demands of their husbands and in-laws and give up their careers post marriage and take up their ‘duties’ of child-bearing, housekeeping, etc.

The Indian government has brought in several schemes and newer laws to support working women. More recently, the government introduced a law to increase the duration of ‘paid’ maternity leave making it one of the longest in the world now, a move providing relief to millions of to-be-mothers who struggle between pregnancy and work commitments.