How to beat the cultural definition of gender-based roles?

Article by: Athira Premarajan, Research and Content Development Associate

Janaki waited anxiously to hear about her culinary expertise at her new home. She was so proud of herself applying all that her mother had taught her since the day she stopped going to school as she was told it was time for her to learn domestic chores. Leaving her colourful textbooks behind, which mostly had untouched leaves of Ruskin Bond and R K Narayan, she happily obeyed her mom’s advice. Within a year’s span, Janaki saw herself in the new red saree draped beautifully around her – leaving her home – being welcomed to her new family.

“Janaki,” whispered her mother-in-law, “I am glad you got it right. He always likes his Rotis soft and fluffy”. Unexplored still stayed in the dusty corners of her open wardrobe, Bond and Narayan.

Disclaimer: It isn’t a tale. Also, not a real story. But it is an inspired piece from thousands of lives who are still alive today. There are two aspects we can infer from this: The hefty burden of familial duties a woman is bound to carry and lack of knowledge of education. We sure aren’t in Utopia or the Barbarian era. However, some of the ideologies we keep quite are Utopian or Barbarian. It is really not necessary to state the obvious but, time and again we have been failed by traditions and ideologies, which are outdated. Yes, gender discrimination is an earthed topic, still hot on the plate. However, the measures taken to curb it is always off the plate.

Before traversing globally, let’s take our nation’s state on the same. According to studies, Indian women spend an average of 300 more minutes than men doing household chores. Now, is it because men are not healthy enough or they have less than 24 hours as opposed to women? No. It is the centuries-old practices and lack of sensitization that holds responsibility for this data. Even in the families adopting the best of gender equality practices, chances are that certain unknown biases act up, in turn, making women responsible for house chores and caregiving.

Now, how can this be curbed? Is there a written set of rules and norms? No. Have they conducted studies on it? Yes. But here, especially during the time of the pandemic, we are putting out an easier set of activities that the men allies could adopt in creating a better home for your other half.

  • Fix your Ideologies:

The term hereditary, as a matter of fact, is a term that we own up to proudly – for the caste, race, region or any such category we belong to. These come with a couple of tagalongs – traditions, rituals, ideologies – which has been imprinted in you probably even before you turned four! Out of the several good aspects these tagalongs carry, you have been taught or per se experienced certain illogical set of norms meant to be done by a particular gender. A boy usually runs to the grocery store while the girl does the dishes. This stigma apparently has affected several other of our routines inflicting a sense of gender inequality. Fix it.

  • Sensitize your Peers, Correct your Elders:

You may belong to a set of prominent broad-minded thinking peers. However, when it comes to reality topics like washing one’s own clothes or dishes, these forward thinkers would still be at the mercy of their mother or wife. Or for instance, your mother asks to leave your plate on the table after dinner, offer to clean it by yourselves. In two words: Identify and Rectify.

  • Put that down, ‘he’ will lift it:

Well, we cannot alter the biological form we are born into. It is true that several jobs require people with good physical built and sometimes not. And there are certain roles that cannot be fulfilled by a substitute. However, judging a person’s strength based on gender is unacceptable.

Note: Saleswomen and women working in the service industry also feeds their family.

  • Remove the Social Stigma:

Women, often a victim of this, is usually stamped with duties pertaining to house chores. Surprisingly enough, accrediting to the ascribed talents and acquired knowledge, women themselves find it odd when men help them in the kitchen cooking or doing dishes. Nor will they find it easy to involve in financial decisions. The need of the hour here is a ‘Reset Button’. Do you have it ready?

  • If it is Boy, Engineer, If it is a Girl, Doctor:

Bet you remember this dialogue from the famous movie ‘3 Idiots’. Well, it would be boring to iterate it in any other format. This and several other scenes in this comedy epic captures a load of gender disparity issues. Watch it once and think about it. And, prevent it from happening with you.

Good luck and be the driver of change!


Choices women shouldn’t have to make

Unprecedented times. Unplanned for reality. These are some of the descriptors that may be used to define the state of countries, societies, organisations, families and individuals, today. As individuals, micro-constituents of entities that are strategizing to beat the challenge, how about taking the crisis by it horns, embarking on an introspective spiral and contributing to better ways of living?

This is what we at Avtar Women did and we now have this list of Top five choices women (half of the sky!) shouldn’t have to make:

1. To choose between family and a career

This is a global phenomenon. Women’s workforce participation rate is substantially lesser than men’s across geographies, across societies. The male breadwinner, female care-taker family model results in many women (pursuing careers) taking a break at critical junctures involving care-giving – motherhood or elder care. While this may be a choice many women consciously make, in many cases, the decision is not entirely the woman’s. If organizations are to be cognizant of career enabling needs of women and families more supportive of a woman’s career aspirations, this will be a choice any women will not have to make.

2. To choose educational courses perceived to be lighter and easier to pursue a career on

This is unfortunately a choice that millions of women/girls have had to make. Encouraging girls to take up courses that will lead them on to ‘manageable’ careers (that will ensure quality work-life integration) is common place. Why do you have to pursue an MBA or an engineering is a question many girls get asked. This is a choice; we wish women do not have to make. Ultimately, what one becomes is what one dreams, what one is encouraged to dream! 

3. To take a pay cut as they make successful career comebacks

Gender wage gap is prevalent, across organizations, across sectors. While discerning organizations are working towards ensuring gender wage parity, this becomes more pronounced when women make career comebacks. A 2019 research by Avtar revealed that 69% of women on career breaks in India, anticipate a pay cut when they make a career return. If organizations are to critically look at the talent potential of this talent pool and women on their part proactively plan come-backs (undertake up-skilling interventions and negotiate with potential employers), this choice could be nullified. 

4. To take ownership of three Cs, even as young girls

This is how gendered roles are driven when children are boxed to activities at a very young age. When little girls are told that they have to warm up to the 3 Cs – Cooking, Cleaning and Caring pretty early (because that would benefit them in the future), the choice is many a times sealed. This perpetuates gender stereotypes and the gender skew in care-giving continues. This is definitely a choice young girls shouldn’t have to make.

5.  To be silent victims/spectators of body shaming

Multiple researches have shown that women/girls are more likely to be body shamed than men/boys. Often women choose to not react to seemingly frivolous comments on their appearance and body language, to not ruffle feathers. This leads to power equations in gender thrive, in extreme cases leading to emotional and physical abuse. If women/girls do not really have to make the choice of being a silent bearer, we as a society could go a long way in reducing the rate of crimes against women and children.

So these are our thoughts! What are yours? Add on to the comments below.