Sex ratio

Women at work

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If adolescents watch women employed in various professions, it will sensitise them on the gender issue

Another Inter-national Women’s Day has come and gone. Celebrities and celebrations once again cemented women’s solidarity. Twenty years ago, such a phenomenon was unthinkable. Ten years ago, it was a Page-3 fling-time for elite women. But things are fast changing, at least in the metros. Recently, when a woman Secretary to the Government of India quipped as she replaced her Minister who was held up, “Once again the woman stands in place of the man”, the audience burst into appreciative laughter and after a momentary pause, applause. The jibe had gone home, although the audience was mostly male.

Around the same time, a presentation on the status of maternal and infant mortality in the country was heard in pin-drop silence. Ten years ago, those present would have said: “That is Health Ministry’s problem.” Five years ago, it would have evoked the mantra – first provide literacy and education to women. This time there was universal recognition that something drastic was needed to be done.

The waning sex ratio, the huge percentage of early marriages in nearly half the districts, anaemic teenagers mechanically forced to produce babies, the growing spectre of underweight children evoked disquiet. Instinctively, people rallied around and promised to involve their organisations and associations in bringing these issues to the forefront. Uneasiness was beginning to show, at least in public.

But what would generate a change that penetrates into homes and bedrooms? While men may not proactively promote sex determination tests, they do remain passive partners and acquiesce silently to female relative’s wishes and wants. They happily embrace early marriages for their daughters on the plea that they have to “fulfil a responsibility” – quite forgetting that higher education, the acquisition of greater skills and competencies, necessarily requires pushing up the age of marriage.

How many men would abandon the prospect of marrying a daughter to the proverbial “bada sona munda”, if she insists on pursuing a career instead? How many in-laws would actively encourage sons to delay the birth of the first child, instead of raring to announce a pregnancy to busy-body relatives?

Fourth of April is celebrated in the US as “take our daughters and sons to work”. It was created by a foundation for women to provide an educational experience for America’s children. I witnessed this phenomenon at work in an office in Washington some years ago.

Recognising that adults continually face challenge of balancing work, family, social and personal responsibilities, including late sitting, making time to pick up a child, providing care for a sick parent and taking decisions that are difficult to explain, the “take our daughters and sons to work” day encourages children to think about these questions. The programme is designed to expose children to what adults do during the working day, to show them the value of education, hard work and the occasional price one has to pay for others.

Of course, America is the land of celebrations and gimmicks, ensnaring the gullible consumer to spend slavishly on cards, gifts and SMS messaging – all part of a multi-million dollar business. But the point about drawing attention to a situation is well taken. The younger generations do need to know the pressures and deadlines at work, the environment that surrounds their parent in office, and more importantly, why work has to take precedence at times.

Taking a positive cue from that idea, if today’s adolescents could watch professional women at work, scientists, doctors, lawyers, sportswomen, TV anchors, it would sensitise them as nothing else can. When they grew up (which will happen very soon,) they will shun sex determination and understand the value of careers for their sisters, daughters, daughters-in-law and daughters-to-be.

A cacophony of voices will no doubt chastise me for thinking only of urban elite and health hounds and activists would decry such simplistic ideas. That is precisely why I write this article. Because sometimes even lip service can make the point.

Even if a few schools, teachers and parents were to make a beginning, providing children the opportunity to watch parents at work, even the values of a good citizen might yet get imbibed, creating just the impact we seek. No father would treat his job with disrespect in the presence of children. If he shows off how important the task before him is, perforce his sense of pride would percolate into the psyche of young onlookers. A man’s self-esteem at work be he a bus driver or a CEO, would make children understand the importance of every kind of work, while imparting dignity to those who perform thousands of dead-end jobs that are none-the-less critical for our lives.

Abhorrence for nepotism and bribery could all be woven into the theme of “take your daughters and sons to work”. We can yet change mindsets if we focus on important principles seen through the eyes of children. Who knows it might still restore the sense of self worth we all seek – an infinitely superior strategy to holding out threats of hanging minions, while the master continues to make hay.