What does patriarchy do to us?
When we take India as a whole, the ratio between women and men is 50:50, never mind
that the numbers are skewed in some States. But overall, we have an almost equal number
of women and men. 2021 recorded, for the first time in our country, the number leaning
towards women, 1020 women for every 1000 men, and fell again in 2022. 1000 women for
every 1068 men.
But let’s just assume, it is 50:50 (women are 48.04%). So, 50% of the population (men)
contribute to 82% of India’s GDP and 50% percent of the population (women) can
contribute only 18%. Men, before you swell with pride over this number, tell me this – do
you know anyone who has died in the past few years, due to reasons other than covid,
especially in the age bracket of 35-55 years? Were they more men or women?
That is what happens when the huge weight of driving the country economically is put on
one gender’s shoulders. Either your heart stops or your head does. Now, does it sound
appealing or something to be proud of?
Why does the female gender not contribute? Is it because they are not talented, skilled, or smart?
Do they not learn quickly?
One major reason that holds our women back from the workforce is the cultural taboos that we
have, the gender stereotypes. Notions on what women and men are supposed to do or not
do prevail in our society. These rules suffocate both women and men. While women are not
allowed to work outside their homes, men are looked down upon if they cannot earn a good
income. If women are called hysterical for voicing out their opinions, men are ridiculed for
showing their emotions or being vulnerable.
As people, we also learn these lessons of inequality and discrimination and perpetuate them on
people in our circle. So, even if a family has a woman contributing economically, would the
men in the family share the load in the homes? Would they do their share of household
chores, without being asked, or would they just let the woman have a double load? Would
it be alright if a man in the family does not want to take up a traditional job and have a
traditional income? Instead, if the man wants to be a musician, writer, or artist, would you
readily accept it?
All these ideas about how women should be, restrict their opportunities to be economically
productive and contribute to the household income and the economy. We, women, have all
heard that we had to reach home by a certain time, mostly, before it got dark. Times have
changed and yet we have time restrictions. Recently, the girls from Calicut Medical College
had to file a case with the High Court regarding the time restriction on them. Girls had to get
back to the hostel by 9:30 pm while boys had no restrictions. Therefore, access to the library
which was open till 11:30 pm was denied to the girls. The Judge had to ask the authorities
why they did not think of girls as sensible adults when they were old enough to vote but not be
out after 9:30 pm! Court had to remind them that they were adults and had the Right to move.
Now, society and other authorities may bring in the safety angle. We have seen that all
studies show that women are safer in the streets than in their own homes. But women do
have more fear of being unsafe out on the streets. What can we do to alleviate such fears in
the minds of women and their families? If we do that, more women may have more access
to opportunities that requires them to stay back late. For example, nurses, night shift jobs,
research, etc. Women lose out on opportunities for promotions, brainstorming, deals, leads,
etc. when they do not stay back for after-office hour networking. They would prefer rushing
back to their homes, children, and pending chores. How many women get the time to
read more, attend extra classes, and stay updated about their work? Would the men not do it
if they had to? I have known plenty of women who have refused to take up promotions that
included a transfer of location. They have remained in their positions all their lives without
ever rising in ranks. Do you think it made them happy? What kind of support would have
propelled their success? Obviously, one needs the support of other members at home, in words
and actions. The support of other family members taking up their family responsibilities would
have certainly reduced their stress and kept their minds free to pursue higher ranks.
What can the government and local authorities do to ensure that more women use
opportunities that entail late working hours? A simple yet powerful tool; ensure
adequate lighting on all streets. It makes everyone feel safer. More women on the streets
make other women feel safer.
When we design public infrastructure, we need to keep all members of society in mind.
If every community can have a well-monitored daycare center for children and the elderly,
it would free up women to pursue opportunities without stress or guilt. If there was
more last-mile connectivity, it would make people better mobile. Once we get off a bus or
train on the main road or railway station, then getting home from that point is tougher for
women as more women use public transport. If there is a vehicle in the family, it would
most probably be used more by the males in the family than the females, even if the woman
was paying for the vehicle. So, if getting home from the last point of travel was easier, this
would open more opportunities for everyone.
And finally, if we changed our rigid perceptions about the roles of men and women in a
family and society, it would benefit everyone. Equal homes have happier, healthier children,
women, and men. It also ensures longer lives in men.
Sajitha Rasheed is the founder and chief mentor at Mind Mojo, Center for People Skill Development and Personal Growth