Several factors account for the fact that women workers, especially in manual and seemingly unskilled jobs, are considered as docile and subservient and their wages are kept low. Unconsciously, it is an extension of their traditionally submissive role within the family in a world where patriarchy reigns supreme, whereby employers feel entitled to consider women’s wages as being complementary to their husbands’ pay. Add the cultural trait of passivity and docility which is said to characterize a large number of womenfolk and you get a bigger picture of why this kind of mindset is pervasive among employers.
Up to now those who have been entrusted with the tasks of improving the life of the people have tolerated the exploitation of women by a laissez-faire attitude towards employers. The indifference and connivance of decision-makers are rarely questioned and, to our knowledge, no electoral agenda is highlighting the issue in the current electoral campaign. So should women stage a huge demonstration to make themselves heard?
Margaret Thatcher is often quoted as saying: ‘If you want something said, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman.’ Unfortunately, that is the kind of thinking that prevents women from moving into leadership roles and keeps the vast majority of them stuck in middle management while men move up without the handicap of glass-ceiling discrimination.
That kind of thinking pampers men in the role of visionary leaders, the ones who can think big and say great things; in any case, women’s thoughts are not taken seriously. They are rather seen as a huge mass of great worker-bees, but as visionary leaders not so much. This, incidentally, is not so different from what happens in husband-wife interaction. However much female intuition and wisdom prove to be right in decision-making, husbands refuse to listen first, and if they do acknowledge that their wives are right after some time, they never say it out of misplaced pride.
Little wonder that in a number of homes around you, men are obstacles to the progress of the whole family simply because they prevent female energy from unfolding and expressing its holistic vision of women’s development and the subsequent benefit to the household. I wanted to do this and that but my husband did not want to…, that’s why we are all in a pretty mess,we could have done this and that and had a better life. Too late now – and thus many a woeful story of missed opportunities due to the conservative patriarchal role which determines who says and who submits.
At a certain point, you have got to force mentalities to change. In the workplace, it does not take long to realize that men are bred for self-confidence. From the football ground to the martial arts course, men’s lives emphasize competition. By the time they get to the workplace, they are self-confident competitors, who know both about victory and defeat. In order to achieve the same level of achievement, women have to build their own self-confidence too; and they should instil that self-confidence in the upbringing of their daughters.
Equally important is the duty of parents, mothers and fathers, to ensure that they do not discriminate against their daughters in matters of family property inheritance and get rid of the belief that sons carry the family name and should, therefore, reap a bigger share of family property.
Unwritten rules for women in the public and private sector as well as in politics are too conspicuous to go unnoticed. You could be the hardest working person in your office, but if you don’t make your boss aware of your accomplishments, you may be sabotaging your own career. Professional development depends upon rigorous and comprehensive feedback on your performance to help you grow and improve. Your male boss may not feel comfortable giving that information to you, so you’ll need to be direct in asking for it.
As regard recruitment, men generally get hired on their promise and women on their demonstrated experience. Men are usually taken at their word, while women get challenged more, are required to give data and justification for their opinions. So the benefit of the doubt is a male privilege. Working mothers should not let anyone speak and decide for them, or be seen as potential risks and be denied interesting assignments under the guise of benevolent protectionism.
To break down unwritten rules in all fields of work, women must aim to get noticed, offer their ideas, ask for assignments, convey their aspirations and communicate their achievements, and build self-confidence and a network of connections.
The point is that women should occupy more space in public and private spheres on their own merits and hence, use their intuitive intelligence, skills and energy to contribute to the holistic development and progress of society. For that to be effective due attention should be given to women who are at the lowest rungs of the salary scale, the vast pool of worker-bees toiling for peanuts. Huge disparities in salaries are not being addressed seriously.
The general atmosphere in a country, the feel-good factor among the people, the overall morale and enthusiasm for betterment are highly determined by the quality of leadership that uses its authority and will to devise policies and shape the future of a country. Novelty is a key element in progress and change to boost new dynamics.
The presence of strong women with high academic profile like Roshni Mooneeram, Sheila Bunwaree, Nathalia Vadamootoo, to name a few, will create a fair balance of power in a predominantly male-dominated political arena. For them to be elected, voters have the choice to perpetuate discriminatory unwritten rules which keep women away from promotion and political responsibility or get off the beaten tracks and set up new inroads.
* Published in print edition on 5 December 2014