India celebrated Daughters’ Day recently and the world celebrates the same during the last weekend of September. I wanted to share some of my thoughts around this. While in most of our work places we do observe quite a lot of women colleagues and there are various initiatives around increasing their participation, I feel equality starts with each one of us and it needs to be brought out in each of our daily activities.
INDIA’S CULTURAL BACKDROP
India has a rich cultural heritage when it comes to gender equality in intellectual and political pursuits. One of the few religions and cultures in the world that has deities and festivals giving prime importance to women. Where else would you see pompous Durga Puja, Saraswati Puja or Lakshmi Puja in the world. From women scholars during the Vedic period to political rulers like Rani Laxmi Bai to the various women national leaders who contributed to the country’s independence movement, India has demonstrated stronger gender participation in nation building.
I recently came across this piece in Mahabharatha where Draupadi encourages Yudhishthira to go and fight the usurpers of his throne:
The Upanishads also have various discussions where learned women like Gargi and Maitreyi have participated in arguments on subjects that were way ahead of our modern time.
WHATS THE SCENE NOW
Women constitute about 48% of our population in India, however when it comes to workforce they are mere 22%. The growth in this over the last 40 years have been quite tepid from about 14% in 1971 to the current levels. Given below is the comparison among various developed nations:
But is it fair to compare against developed nations. Let’s look at the numbers against various BRICS nations:
One of the arguments could be about the higher dependence on unorganized sectors in Indian economy and hence the number may not be a true representation. While that data may not be directly available, it is important to constantly work towards bringing the participation to comparable levels.
Global Gender Gap report released by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in 2017 ranks India at 139 out of 144 countries on the economic participation and opportunity. As per recent McKinsey’s study, the impact on India’s GDP will be about US $700 billion if it improves gender equality. Primary factors leading inequality can be attributed to lack of access to quality higher education, healthcare, underlying societal norms, economic conditions, etc.
WHAT CAN YOU & I DO ABOUT IT
While some of the macro economic aspects are taken care at policy levels, I feel there are very basic challenges that still exist that can be handled by you and I. There are fundamental thought processes that even modern men carry and subtle changes in our approach will move the equality to a better balance.
Is it ok if My Wife Earns More
How many of us modern men completely accept the fact that the wife earns more? Blame it on various societal factors, it is but a sad reality that quite a few domestic tensions arise because of a higher salary that the wife earns. This is also manifested in various researches that have proven that women tend to get paid lower than a man for the same job. I think the fundamental change in mindset is needed to accept the remuneration to match the appropriate skill.
The Bundle of Joy Arrives
This is a turning point in most of the women, who set out to build their career. While I agree to the fact that this is an important milestone and there are biological factors that require the women to spend more time at this life stage, how many of the modern fathers spend quality time in helping the woman at this crucial time? In some of the the pre-natal workshops you can observe the woman attending the sessions diligently and an occasional visit by the husband. It is important to lend hand at this crucial stage, most importantly in supporting career choices.
Growing up Years
While the child is growing up, major effort goes into schooling and allied activities. It is not only the fees that need to be paid, but quality involvement in various other excruciating tasks that the school puts the parents through. Check your child’s school whatsapp group, how many fathers do you see? How many fathers do you see during the PTA or the annual function? I think it is important that both the parents distribute the efforts during the child’s school going stage. Trust me, it is fun to sit and do the homework with your child or discuss Newton’s three laws.
Have you come across men who wear a badge of honor that they cannot cook anything but Instant noodles? This is nothing to feel proud about and is one of the basic things that needs change. While both the partners are working, it is not unusual that the wife goes through the motion of planning the meal even after returning after a day long review at work! Well, Swiggy solves a part of the problem, learning to cook is the permanent solution. It is not fair that the man of the house watches Netflix, while the wife is fixing dinner! The same applies to giving a hand to basic household chores. It may be cleaning the utensils when your maid has called in sick or making the bed or even not throwing the wet towel on the bed!
Investing for Future
Investment decisions are to be jointly taken. Better still, the wife should have a separate investment portfolio. Both the partners could add each other as nominees and share details of investment and insurance decisions. Allowing your wife to choose curtains for your new house doesn’t count as participation in investment decision. I know some of these decisions are boring, but this is true financial independence, not giving an addon Credit Card.
For a healthy, long term relationship, it is important for both the partners have personal time. Often when the man blissfully goes out with friends for parties, it is the wife who ends up managing the home. It is important that this is shared as well. In addition to the annual family vacations, the woman of the house should plan short trips with her friends, separately. This will open up perspectives for both the genders and equality in personal space.
Some of these are my personal thoughts about what gender equality means. Some of us men have grown up with a sense of entitlement and subconsciously, few elements of the inequality come up in our day to day interactions even with family. I truly salute the women who are currently working amidst us, managing well in addition to taking care of various challenges at home. I feel independence and equality cannot be given, it is already existing. It is just that we need to identify and nurture at our own individual levels. If you are having a 10-year-old girl as a nanny for your toddler, start by sacking her first and support her education instead!