This incident happened not a very long time ago when attending conferences was a daily routine and firm handshakes signified our deal cracking, when Zoom calls were not the usual 6 o’clock meet up channel and travelling by local trains was the most difficult part to handle. I remember; being an intern and walking into this huge conference room, excited to start my first day. But to my surprise, my first day left me with a big question mark in my head, when I saw a huge registry with two columns separating the workforce based on gender.
Oh yes! You heard me right. They had separate columns with individual headings, which read out “female interns” and “interns”. WHAT?
I know what you all must be wondering, because the same thought kept running in my mind; about why women have “female” or “woman” as a prefix to their role? We often hear people saying, “women leaders” or “women directors” or “women presidents” or “the women’s cricket team”.
Why is there no prefix for the same role played by men? Is it because the patriarchal society feels the same? In that case, what was the role assigned for women? This is the kind of myth that needs to be broken.
Women have struggled to pave their ways in order to create milestones for themselves; right from the scratch they build themselves to face new challenges throughout their journey and yet often feel pulled down by societal pressures, majorly because of gender bias.
8th March – listed as the international women’s day – is a tribute to all women across the world. But many people are unaware of another important day celebrated before women’s day, i.e. on 1st March, known as the Zero Discrimination Day. Zero Discrimination Day is an annual day celebrated by the UN and other international organisations. The day aims to promote equality before the law and in practice throughout all of the member countries of the UN. This day aims to prevent discrimination from standing in the way of achieving ambitions, goals and dreams of individuals. Campaigners in India have used the occasion to speak out against laws that make discrimination against the LGBTI community more likely, especially Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which criminalises homosexuality. This day has marked its importance in terms of standing up against discrimination in any form.
Our country’s constitution was written keeping in mind the rights of the citizens without any discrimination. It speaks about human rights. Rights that are common for both men and women, yet women never really got the freedom to choose their rights. These rights were always presented in a different way for both the genders.
Our constitution explains the right to equality, the right to education, the right to speak, the right against gender discrimination, then why do we still feel the pinch of inequality prevailing in our society? Being a woman in theory and being a woman in practicality is an entirely different concept. I feel agitated when I witness women being fed superficial facts about their rights.
Discrimination begins at our homes, with a majority of women being taught to always prioritize their household chores over their professional responsibilities. It is due to this stereotype mentality women keep self-doubting themselves. They start looking at themselves in a way others look and perceive them. This little office regime of tagging or labelling demoralises an individual and empowers others’ perspective over their own. Where women get tagged with multiple labels, starting with bossy, bitchy, difficult, aggressive, slutty, and whatnot. Tagging women with such labels results in loss of self-identity and the behavior of individuals may be determined or influenced by the terms used to describe or classify them. Labelling is associated with the concepts of self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotyping which leaves an imprint in the minds of the individuals who are being labeled. Even the labels so tagged to women are more stereotypical than those that are tagged to men. According to a Harvard research about labelling individuals, there was no gender difference in the number of positive attributable tags assigned, but when it came to negative attributable tags women were assigned more such labels than men. Women often have been victims of such labels, which has led them to question their abilities. Women are constantly reminded of their vulnerabilities, everywhere, especially at the job front. Gender discrimination raises its ugly head at some of the top positions in some of the top organizations.
I recall watching Indra Nooyi’s interview where she mentions that her mother casually told her to go and fetch milk from the milk booth soon after she broke the news of her becoming CEO of PepsiCo. To her mother, her achievement was no big deal. What mattered more was that Indra did her daily duties. Her mother’s words were loud and clear that “ She might be the president of PepsiCo. She might be on the board of directors. But when she enters the house, she is a wife, she is a daughter, she is a daughter-in-law, she is a mother and she shouldn’t forget that”. Now, this is exactly where the issue lies. We have gotten comfortable with the demands made to us by a gender-stereotyped society. That within the four walls of the house a woman needs to know her boundaries and her duties.
This is precisely the reason for poor representation of women in politics, sports, army, and all those supposedly male-dominated career options. They are paid less than their male counterparts despite their work experience and efficiency. Women often feel dejected due to their workplace environment, and the societal pressure. The dilemma between their ambitions and the constant societal nagging. Nevertheless, women keep marching forward amid all their struggle. This everyday struggle of women not being given equal opportunity has been supported by Indian law enforcement and acts that help us fight inequality.
Let me start with:
The Company Act, 2013
Under section 149 of the Company Act 2013; the provision talks about “the mandatory appointment of women directors.”
In the past, qualified women employees have often been prevented from advancing to management positions in companies because of their gender. This term often used for this artificial barrier is the “glass ceiling.” This invisible yet discernible barrier prevents women and minorities from rising beyond a certain level of the hierarchy within an organization. To put it plainly, the glass ceiling keeps the top jobs for the big players, which are supposedly men.
This provision has been amended in the year 2018 to meet the increase in demand for women as Board members. This increased women in top positions in the hierarchy. In the current scenario, this has helped many deserving women with strong aspiration to rise up the ladder with a little support.
I am not saying that these acts are the sole reason for their growth but are definitely like a support system that help them in their career pathways. A woman with dreams and ambition is enough to revolutionize the societal outlook, but it’s a time consuming process. This can be achieved only with patience and dedication portrayed by ambitious women who demand for equal status irrespective of any support systems.
Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013
The Indian legal landscape changed dramatically in 2013. Corporate governance received a boost from the re-vamped legislation in the form of the Companies Act 2013, which superseded the Companies Act 1956, bringing about the groundbreaking law on a much-needed and burning issue, the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 — India’s first codified legislation specifically dealing with prevention, prohibition, and redressal of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. These legislative actions further cemented 2013 as a year of massive changes in the Indian legal landscape.
This act ensures women’s safety at workplace; this Act seeks to protect them from sexual harassment at their place of work. This act along with all its rules together is most commonly called as the POSH act. It aims to foster a safe and secure environment for women by preventing, prohibiting, and redressing instances of sexual harassment at workplaces in India. Notwithstanding these avenues of protection, for a long time working Indian women did not practically receive the protections granted under the Constitution and national or state legislations. It was obvious that women needed specific rules to enforce their rights. The Supreme Court of India, in Vishaka v. State of Rajasthan, observed that equality in employment cannot be achieved if women are subjected to gender specific violence at the workplace, such as sexual harassment. The Vishaka ruling is easily among the landmark judgments that changed India.
Maternity Benefit Act, 1961
This act regulates the employment of women and maternity benefits mandated by law. It states that a woman employee who has worked in an organization for at least 80 days during the 12 months preceding the date of her expected delivery is entitled to receive maternity benefits, which includes maternity leave, nursing breaks, medical allowance, etc.
National Commission for Women Act, 1990
The NCW represents the rights of women in India and provides a voice for their issues and concerns. The National Commission for Women Act aims to improve the status of women and work for their economic empowerment.
Equal Remuneration Act, 1976
This Act prevents discrimination in terms of remuneration. It provides for payment of equal recompense to men and women workers.
I can say the 21st century has revolutionised time, people’s thinking and perspective have taken a 180 degree turn. Hence with time people’s mindset and actions have changed. Women are demanding for equal pay, equal recognition, and equal rights. We want to be recognized in the workplace for our abilities and caliber, and to achieve this; it is necessary to know our rights and the law that governs us. These acts are the stepping stones that will help us voice our strong opinions and adhere to our rights.
Now coming back to my incident when I was an intern – over the years, I realized that I need to stand up for myself because no one else would and no one else can. Our ambitions, our dreams, our aspirations, and our will can only help us break through these stereotypes created in our patriarchal society. We need our society to see us play multiple roles with dignity; that with great home-makers, we are also strong careerists. Along with the title of ‘Mrs’ we can also proudly uphold the title of a ‘Dr’ too. That our motherhood shouldn’t be a barrier. That one day women will be called as “leaders” or “presidents” or “directors” or in my case, just “an intern” without “women”or “female” being used as a prefix. Women would be recognised for their abilities and their personalities, for their opinions and discoveries. Let your wings have no boundaries, let your opinions be held with integrity and let your ambitions define your personality. So, give your best in order to turn your dreams into reality. Don’t let others define your success story.
Also, to all those women who have been labeled:
“Bossy”, keep leading.
“Aggressive”, keep being assertive.
“Difficult”, keep telling the truth.
Because gender bias is real and the language we use is important.