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Recalibrating – Work and Society

Gender Equality at workThis blog post has been contributed by Aparna Sanjay.
One of the issues that interest and resonate with me (and doubtless, with all women/mothers), is the issue of women, and work, and the unequal and subordinate status of women in society and work relationships. The central problem for feminist strategy, as proposed by many feminist scholars, is the old debate of equality vs difference. It even has a name – it’s called Wollstonecraft’s Dilemma! The egalitarian ideal of feminism asks for equal treatment for fundamentally unequal people, and the feminist ideal, asks for women to be treated as different but equal. The dilemma is that the two routes towards EQUAL citizenship that women have pursued are mutually incompatible within the confines of patriarchal society. Women demand on one hand that they be treated on par with men in every respect; the implication being a gender-neutral world.
On the other hand they also say that as women they have different talents, needs and concerns, therefore the expression of their citizenship, their rights and obligations, will be different from that of men. These two routes/demands are incompatible (and therefore impossible to attain) because it allows 2 alternatives only: either women become like men, and so full citizens; or they continue at women’s (traditional) work and roles, which is unpaid and seemingly of no value.
Clearly the fundamental issue from a fairly narrow perspective of equal rights, pay and opportunities at the workplace, is that a) women have primary responsibility for household work including children and other dependents, whether or not they work outside the home b) Men are INDEPENDENT to a large extent from such responsibilities. I’ve always believed that men’s independence in this context is a far greater and problematic issue than women’s dependence. Unless men are made to fulfil their household responsibilities (chores, raising kids, cooking, all that stuff), and unless such responsibilities become part and parcel of the very fabric of our society, there is little to be gained by cracking open the glass ceiling. The latter is very important, however the real constraints lie in the home, not in the workplace.
If the patriarchal norms of society are harmful to women, they are also unjust to men. We don’t hear of a “Daddy track”, do we? Why isn’t there one? The answer really needs to come from what would work better for both sexes. Can our communities organize themselves in a way that would allow both parents to give wholeheartedly to their families and children?
I have a dream – that each country would implement welfare policies which would allow both men and women to pursue their careers (or not). It has been demonstrated that countries with generous maternity leaves (such as the UK) actually worsen gender equality prospects as women stay home longer while men continue to pursue their professional goals. Scandinavian countries which have a “use-it-or-lose-it” paternity leave policy actually do much much better in increasing gender equality. I’d love for India to have shared leave in baby’s first year (as in Canada), high-quality childcare and lots and lots of flex-work opportunities. When do you think the developing countries will get there? Anytime in the next couple of generations?


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ParentEdge is a bi-monthly magazine for discerning Indian parents who would like to actively contribute to their children’s education, intellectual enrichment and stimulation. The magazine’s premise is that learning is a continuous process, and needs to happen both in and outside of school; thus parents have an important role to play in shaping their children’s interests and intellect.

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