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Indias urban women make progress in education and employment

Global Press Institute - Mon, 20 Feb 2012 09:46 GMT
Author: Global Press Institute
Global Press Institute
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Global Press Institute BANGALORE, INDIA - Shelley Das, 32, is a well-educated and widely traveled woman who lives in Bangalore, a city in southern India. Dressed in neat business clothes, she has just finished another workday at a multinational corporation, where she holds a senior position. She says that she is part of a recent quantum leap in the evolution of the urban Indian woman. "The average urban Indian woman is educated, financially independent, emotionally strong and spiritual[ly] complete," Das says confidently. But her tone suddenly switches to disappointment as she acknowledges that society has been slow to evolve with this new woman. "Unfortunately, this has created an environment of insecurity in her domestic as well as professional worlds," she says. "On the contrary, average urban Indian man has not kept pace with her. In fact, to many, he has regressed." After a little pause and pondering, she continues. "The Indian man's monopoly as the breadwinner of the family is [being] challenged by the hand that rocks the cradle as well as provides for the family," she says. "The insecure man is now pushed to a corner, where he basks only in the glory of physical prowess." Das, who is single, says this makes dating difficult. "As a result, chivalry has been reduced to only a concept," she says. "These days, men do not offer a seat to women in crowded public buses, they do not hold the closing elevator door for a female colleague or expect the wife to have a say in family planning." Das says she is proud of the progress the urban Indian woman has made. But she is unhappy about the response of society toward this progress. Women in urban areas say that the older generations have trouble adjusting to their increasing entrance into the workplace. Some couples say readjusting domestic responsibilities in response to this increase is another point of contention, while other couples report that they are doing their best to adapt. Meanwhile, unmarried women are pushing the envelope further, saying it's time women have more freedom to choose their partners and control their sex lives without pressure or judgment from parents or society. If some changes are made, it is possible for India to meet targets to promote gender equality and empower women - goal three of the Millennium Development Goals, a U.N. anti-poverty initiative that countries worldwide have pledged to complete by 2015, according to the MDG Monitor. These targets include boosting the female-to-male ratio when it comes to seats in Parliament, wage employment outside the agricultural sector and education. In India, the percentage of women in Parliament increased only 1 percent - from 7.2 percent to 8.3 percent - from 1997 to 2007, according to the MDG Monitor. While the male employment-to-population ratio was nearly 80 percent in 2009, the female ratio was just over 30 percent, according to the latest statistics from the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. There is also still a gender disparity favoring boys when it comes to education in India, while the majority of countries in the region with recent data available had achieved parity. Urban Indian women say they are more educated than their mothers and grandmothers. They are taking jobs that were once considered only for men - working at gas stations, driving taxis, working as criminal lawyers and judges, doing mechanical and engineering work, and even sitting on the board of directors for Fortune 500 companies. But they say their progress is cramped by a society that has been slow to evolve with them. Neelanjana Paul, 36, works for an Internet technology company in Bangalore. She says that companies are still figuring out how to adjust to the entrance of women. "While taking the late-night office cab, the standing instruction from the employer was that the woman employee should not be dropped last," she says. "Many a times, the male employees were reluctant to be dropped last but never voiced their grievance openly." But she says she insists on being treated equally with her male counterparts. "Being a woman, I was very much aware of this and did not want to avail of this privilege," she says. Paul says that her female friends have also confronted antiquated attitudes in the workplace because of their sex. One friend received flak for working hard and excelling in her role as a project manager in a software company. "My friend was very talented and hardworking," Paul says. "During tough deadlines, she would stay back throughout the night with her team members, all men. Or some days, she would stay all alone in the office completing her work." An older female colleague about her mother's age told her friend that she liked her because she was strong and brave. But then she also told her that she would be scared to have a daughter like her. "Was it [a] compliment for her hard work or a criticism for her unconventional attitude?" Paul asks sarcastically. She says these outdated attitudes - that women can't be both successful employees and wives - prevent women's advancement in the workplace. "This is the major reason that women do not raise to higher positions," Paul says strongly. "Simply, a woman's dedication to her work is restricted by many clauses." But Partha Banerji, 29, a single man who works for an Indian software company in Bangalore, disagrees about women's ability to advance at work. "They are strong competitors when it comes to getting that coveted job offer," he says. Raising his eyebrows, he says women may even have a leg up on men when it comes to character. "Typically, a woman employee is considered to be more honest and ethical than us," he says. But he quickly jumps to clarify. "But I think generalization should not be made the thumb rule," he adds. "Efficiency, willingness to work hard and experience should be the parameters to judge a prospective employee." He says that women sometimes even take advantage of their stereotype of being the weaker sex. "Many a times, I have seen a woman colleague playing damsel in distress to win professional favors from her male bosses," he says. "Call it the ambition of the urban Indian woman or petty office politics. It is a defining feature of Indian corporate workplace." But many women say their gender roles serve more as a disadvantage. They say they end up working more than their husbands because of the domestic responsibilities that have traditionally fallen to them. After returning from work, they begin their second shift: cooking, cleaning and helping children with their schoolwork. Many say their husbands hardly help them with these duties. A 35-year-old senior manager at an IT company declined to be named because of the contention this issue causes at home. She says she married her boyfriend four years ago. "But he is a not a companion," she says with a sigh. "We both work for equal hours at [the] office, but when I come back, I am expected to cook, clean, and take care of his parents and the entire house." In addition to not contributing at home, he also expects her to wait on him, she says angrily. "He does not pick up his plates after dinner and wants everything given to him," she says. "He will never go and fetch things from the refrigerator or kitchen." She pauses before continuing. "So to avoid all the hassles, I quietly do it all," she says. "I do not get any help from him in our housework." Doing double the work exhausts her physically and mentally, she says. "I do not get any time to relax to either spend time with my friends or pursue any hobby," she says. "I feel like a machine." But some men say they are learning to adjust to women spending more time outside the home by supporting their wives' careers and sharing domestic responsibilities. A 35-year-old manager at a financial institution in Bangalore empathizes that the city-dwelling Indian woman has her hands full these days. "She works much harder than the average man," he says. "Managing family and office is not a mere cakewalk." He acknowledges that balancing work and home life involves lots of sacrifices for women. "My wife is a fashion designer and has to stay for long hours in her studio," he says. He says it involves sacrifices for him as well. "Frankly speaking, I would have liked her to spend more time with me," he says, declining to be named because he has never voiced this concern with his wife and doesn't want to hurt her feelings. But with a smile on his face, he continues. "But I think it is small price to pay for her individual freedom and creative pursuits," he says. He says he does his best to enable his wife to pursue her work. In addition to driving her to the office every day, he also helps out with household work like cutting vegetables for dinner and doing laundry. For unmarried women, they say more freedom is needed when choosing their partners and making decisions when it comes to sex. A 26-year-old human resources employee for a multinational corporation in the city says women's sexual freedom remains restricted. She declined to give her name because she says that society would chastise her for her views. "Virginity is a personal choice, but in India it is related to define the character of the girl or woman," says the woman, who pursued women's studies in college. "Apparently a progressive society that has created texts such as the Kama Sutra, worships the feminine form of energy in goddess Durga and Kali, the Indian society has retained its age-old prejudices against women and her sexual freedom." She points to the idol of Durga that she keeps in her house for worship. She places one palm over the other and lays them on her chest, and emotion fills her voice. "It is also my decision to share my body and my emotions with the partner of my choice," she says. "My virginity is not the yardstick of my character. Losing or retaining my virginity before or after marriage does not make me a better or a worse person." Read the original story here

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