My boss recently attended a two-day conference on “Sexual Harassment at work place”. Prior to that some sessions were also conducted wherein all employees were sensitized on the issue. There has been a sudden glut of circulars on how to behave with women folk at work place and various committees have also been formed to address sexual harassment issues at work place. Yes, there are various laws which are dealing with these issues but why this sudden obsession with all these laws which talk about working women at work place. Aren’t we all aware of how to deport with our female colleagues? or is it that now people in upper echelon wants us to be extra cautious in the way we deal with women folk.
We have been inundated with all kinds of literature, exhorting us to behave in a particular manner more than what we need, are all these treatises actually needed is a question to be answered. Is this talk of gender equality actually percolating down to the lower strata of the society or is it just superficial? These are some of the tough questions which we need to answer otherwise all these rambunctious efforts will never see light of the day. For most of what I have seen or read it seems all these policies have had an adverse impact.
Instead of helping it has actually vitiated the atmosphere and has led to lot of unease among the employees. Gender divide which was narrowing has widened and laws can be exploited in to harass the men folk and can result in vindictive attitude towards them. All this is actually taking us now where probably we are moving backwards rather than moving forward.
This new law of providing mandatory six months’ maternity leave to women is the case in point. Jury is still out on its efficacy in terms of generating employment. I had earlier written an article on employability of women India and why number of women in workforce has drastically fallen of the cliff and analyzed the reasons for the same. All these rules including child care leave which has been implemented in Government sector are exquisite rules, to some extent they can be implemented in formal private sector with some grudges but in informal sector and to a large extent in private sector these rules will not be followed. On the contrary these rules will dissuade private sector human resource managers to employ women in their organization as giving them paid leave for a period of six months is an unnecessary cost which most of the private sector organizations want to avoid.
As such there is a serious dearth of women in formal sector and a lot of women often complain about the working conditions in informal sector. Rather introduction of two months of paternity leave will prove to be much more beneficial in promoting gender equality at work place. What this diktat has done is further reinforced the belief that raising a child is primarily the job of mother and father has got very little to do with it. If paternity leave is promoted along with maternity leave this will go a long way in promoting gender equality for it will ensure that father is equally responsible and secondly from employer’s perspective, it will ensure that there is no bias against hiring women at work for they have to provide paid leave to men as well.
I remember when I asked for paternity leave from my supervisor I was told “What will you do there”
“Why do you want leave”?
This is the patriarchal or medieval attitude of our men folk in our society which has remained as stagnant as a ditchwater and there is absolutely no changing it unless we ourselves want to bring about a change.
All these rules have a limited shelf life. There is not going to be a drastic change in the predicament of women until our mindset as a society changes and we start respecting women more rather than these cosmetic changes which in any case have not yielded much success. Dowry law is one of the most exploited law in the country and has been misused more than it has been used.
In no other country so many laws are promulgated to encourage women to work than in our country but women employment is abysmally low despite all these laws. Problem lies somewhere else. There are still widowed women in Vrindavan whose heads are tonsured and are coerced to beg for alms, in remote villages of our country it is not uncommon to find men smoking hookah, playing cards and bossing around their wives where as women struggle with all the house hold work. Are all these benefits actually reaching them? Are all these polices empowering our women folk in those areas. It could be anybody’s guess.
Rather than tackling the issues at the grass root level we have created an atmosphere of fear for the male employees. Office decorum has been given an all new name under the guise of promoting gender equality at work place. These special privileges have actually created a fissure between male and female employees, male employees are antagonized by special privileges given to female employees and attitude towards a pregnant woman has become that of indifference rather than of benevolence. Male employees feel they have been hard done by all these rules as they have to often bear the brunt of absenteeism of their female colleagues.
We must have a more practical approach in dealing with women at work place otherwise all these laws will actually deepen the already the existing rift.