How does patriarchy impact the position of a middle class working woman in India? [GS-I, 2014]

NOTE: This is an answer to a question asked in the UPSC civil service examination, held in December 2014. This is my first attempt at writing answers for this exam, and this is bound to have flaws.

Although originally a matriarchal system, where the family was identified with the mother’s name, Indian society began to see a shift towards patriarchal tendencies by the later Mauryan age. The concentration of political power in the hands of men, as well as the composition of texts like Manusmriti, which formed the basis of how Hindu society functioned, heavily tipped the scales in the favour of men. This continues till today and affects the lives of middle class working women as follows:

  • LOW FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE: Despite having a job and contributing to the household income, women do not have the same level of financial independence as the male members of the househol. Many women, particularly in the rural areas are required to hand over their entire pay to the male member of the house, usually their father or their husband.
  • NO PARTICIPATION IN DECISION MAKING PROCESS: Women are rarely asked for their opinions while making important household decisions, outside of homemaking. Most significant decision involving expenditures of large sums of money are taken solely by the men. This includes purchase of property, vehicles etc.
  • EXPECTATIONS OF DUAL RESPONSIBILITIES: Even after having jobs that require them to work the same number of hours as their male counterparts, women are given little leeway when it comes to responsibilities towards the family. They are expected to juggle the dual responsibilities of work as well as homemaking.
  • DEPRESSED STATUS IN FAMILY: Women are not accorded the same of respect and dignity that their male counterparts are. In many cases, they are subjected to mental harassment and sometimes physical violence at the hands of their in-laws.
  • SEXUAL HARASSMENT AT WORKPLACE: In the famous Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan, the Supreme court laid down procedural guidelines to be used in cases of sexual harassment of women at workplaces. The ground reality however, continues to be disturbing. A large number of workplaces do not conform to the guidelines laid down in the judgement, and their enforcement is flawed, time consuming and distressing for the victims.

These are a few ways in which patriarchy affects middle class working women in India. Indian society has a long way to go to ensure fair treatment of women, so as to ensure their participation in all walks of life with the same vigour, zeal and enthusiasm as men.