Women working or working women?

How are women working in an urban context? Are they are working to get away from homes or are they working within homes to get away from workplaces?

In both cases, women are working incessantly towards finding their space and safety as well as to negotiate better deals in life. These days working from home is a very trendy concept especially when one is playing the role of a care giver – most often unpaid – as such roles seem to be slammed on women packaged within a gender-specific container. Women are finding more opportunities to work from home so that their reproductive jobs are not compromised while pursuing their professional goals. In fact, according to various studies on workforce composition, there is a drastic decline in women workers within formal employment sectors. This trend indicates a strategic discrimination against women from getting adequate compensation, benefits and they go uncredited for their contribution towards generic economic activities which run institutions, workplaces and organizations.

Women’s work is rooted specifically on gender-specific presumptions. These presumptions are based on stereotypical constructs whereby women are the care givers, nurturers and custodians of resources, service providers, housekeepers, food producers and processors. Recently, a young female relative of mine shared that she doesn’t like competition in the workplace and that’s why she still hesitates to work outside home after her child was born. Some women work from home as investors of stock markets if they have online skills. Again there are others who work as translators, transcriptionists and transliterationists from home. Some women are also working from home as bakers, tutors, craft workers, dress designers, photographers, film makers, writers, editors, authors, beauticians, hostel owners, beauty product dealers, kitchenware dealers, apparel dealers, interior decorators, dancers, home chefs, event caterers, art and music teachers. Women in urban settings work from home after they go through life-cycle changes like marriage, giving birth to children, death of near ones, their own mental or physical transitions and aging.

Women make too many adjustments with their careers to be able to fit into the threshold of their domestic and dependent’s priorities. With age, men escalate their career through seniority, power and position in society. Even after they retire, they find prestigious appointments as advisors, mentors, guides and leaders of different non-formal institutions whereas for women such positions are limited. Even though women are skilled practitioners in the specialised fields of medicine, law, engineering, scientific research, journalism, architecture, social work, sports and athletics, performing arts, somehow they fail to continue with their field of expertise upon aging. Such striking examples are present in every household in the urban context of an educated society in India.

Women’s work is undefined, thankless, unpaid and underestimated within the private sphere. Thus when women hold public positions as well, somehow they are expected to fulfill multiple tasks which are beyond their specified job descriptions. This trend is very common in the third sector institutions, private firms and voluntary organizations. In the development sector also, women’s work is undefined, unstructured, unaccounted. There is a general tendency to position female social workers as subsidiary workers, temporary workers, assistant workers, documentation workers whereas, male social workers can be strategy heads, project leads, financial managers and technical support workers. Somehow, retention rates of female social workers are lower than male social workers especially in remote, rustic and hostile workplaces. Mobility becomes a very crucial determinant in such workplaces.

Women’s work in the public sector gets limited to supervision, management of people, public relations, media management and secretarial positions. Women are working with limited resources, marginal workplace rights and low remuneration when compared to their male counterparts. Most of the technical, financial and strategic positions are headed by men with a few exceptions when one considers major public sector undertakings. Maternity benefit schemes, flexible timings and crèche facilities are mandatory for women’s greater participation in the workforce but the business, corporate, state institutions are still not sensitive and inclusive of women’s reproductive choices. The workplace gets hostile to women’s bodily choices of being or not being pregnant, breastfeeding or not breastfeeding and even in their choice of relationships, lifestyles and transitions in sexuality.

Workplaces these days are growing nightmares where women find themselves fulfilling their expected gender defined roles and face serious discrimination when they deviate from social expectations. Incidents of sexual harassment at workplace are on the rise in various settings whether they are public, private, domestic or voluntary spaces. Women face horrendous discrimination when they negotiate for fair wages, pay-raise, promotion, due recognition, leadership roles, critique regressive strategies and also when they defend co-survivors from abuse, violence and any form of exclusion.

In today’s world, women seem to approve of women working but not necessarily working women. Such trends are very common in elite, upper caste, middle class societies where women’s work is much more recognized inside their homes rather than outside. Somewhere class-based patriarchal constructs limit women’s capabilities and legitimate positions in society. Such an approach, unfortunately, reinforces inequality, misogyny and gender-based social exclusion of women’s work in diverse spheres.


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Samhita Barooah Written by:

Samhita Barooah has worked with communities of women across North East India, trained professionally as a social work practitioner and currently pursuing her doctoral studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati Campus, Assam. She likes writing non-fiction and travels often to rural pockets of North East India.

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