A woman’s world

Last year when the picture-perfect Marissa Mayer was appointed as the CEO of Yahoo in her third trimester of pregnancy, married working women all over the world screamed ‘yahoo!’ in glee.

By Shivani Mohan (ISSUES)

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Published: Tue 19 Mar 2013, 9:04 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:16 PM

We had reached a milestone of sorts. The glass ceiling was giving way to a dainty glass nursery with moppet in tow. How cute was that!

But recently, Mayers initiated a worldwide debate by revoking Yahoo’s ‘work from home’ policy. In India, where companies were almost sleepily waking up to gender parity at the work place, this may be a step back into the dark ages. While every woman has to choreograph and negotiate her own path to what she calls success, cues from successful women who make it look doable cannot be underrated. Each drop in the ocean counts.

Yet, there are challenges galore. Marriages are multi-level, multi-layered commitments. Parenting is hard work. It entails a lot of sacrifice. How difficult it is to balance marriage and work? Or getting back to work after a baby? It is a time when you are at your lowest in terms of self esteem physically, your hormones are a mess, there are added demands-mental, physical and emotional-on you. Yes, creating and bringing up a whole new being in your perfect life is not easy. On top of that the messages in popular media today to always look perfect no matter what a mess you feel inside. I mean just see how we treated Aishwarya Rai as a nation, post pregnancy!

We have all had our horror stories. Returning to work after a sabbatical? You fit into your corporate wear with great struggle pulling that tummy in, you polish your dowdy, ‘dettol-wash a 100 times a day’ mommy hands, conscious not to suddenly start baby-talking in the middle of an interview. Chances are you will be questioned and scrutinised as if you are coming back from outerspace after several years!

But gender sensitisation is a very pertinent issue in a country like India. Are we ready for a world where every ambitious woman decides to forego marriage and kids in order to pursue a career? Indian companies are still ambiguous on many issues that could help her choose both, such as maternity leave, flexi timings, gender discrimination, sexual harassment. With more families going nuclear, good-quality childcare support has to be part of the political and corporate planning priority.

The Indian Union Budget 2013 announced recently has come up with some big-ticket incentives for women. The most significant amongst these is Women’s Only Public Sector bank to encourage entrepreneurship. Surprisingly, there was much sneering amongst women at the prospect of ghettoising women through a women’s-only bank. Keeping in mind the nation-wide outrage at the horrific Delhi gang rape, the government announced a proposal to set up a Nirbhaya Fund with an allocation of Rs1,000 crore. Other than empathetic polity, change has to happen at many levels.

Let’s not for a moment think that when we talk of working women, we only mean the Carrie Bradshaw worshipping, Zara & Mango-clad corporate queens, but also the humble secretary. I particularly eavesdrop on secretaries inadvertently. After the recent Nirbhaya case, all unauthorized buses were taken off the roads of Delhi. But have they been replaced by any other alternatives to public transport? No. She has to now start one hour earlier from home and board overcrowded DTC buses. She is the working woman who gets up at 5 am, cooks meals and packs lunch boxes for the entire family before setting off for work. When she gets back home at 8 pm, she is famished, tired. This too is the reality of India. Whatever we do to facilitate them is less. So the criticism about ghettoizing women through a women’s-only bank is unwarranted.

Yet there are many stereotypes that try to put hard-working women at a disadvantage. If you don’t drink and smoke, you aren’t edgy enough. If you wear sarees, you’re old-fashioned. If you’re a mother, you’re not ruthless. If you want to get married, you’re not ambitious. If you’re pretty, you’re not intelligent. If you’re financially secure, you don’t need to be emotionally secure. We want to tell the world that we can be all of these and then some. At a time and place of our choice!

Shivani Mohan is a Delhi based freelance journalist

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