'You can take it easy, you are a woman'

Published January 2, 2015
We can’t stop our male colleagues from saying it, what we can do is ‘stop taking it easy’, more so when we are asked to.
We can’t stop our male colleagues from saying it, what we can do is ‘stop taking it easy’, more so when we are asked to.

A world where half our homes are run by men, and half our institutions are run by women, would be a far better world!

The first time, I heard Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, say this was in 2012. I immediately turned to Wikipedia and this is what I saw:

Sirimavo Bandaranaike – Prime Minister, Sri Lanka (1960-65, 1970-77, 1994-2000)
Indira Gandhi – Prime Minister, India (1966-77, 1980-84)
Benazir Bhutto – Prime Minister, Pakistan (1988-90, 1993-96)
Khaleda Zia – Prime Minister, Bangladesh (1991-96, 2001-06)
Chandrika Kumaratunga – Prime Minister, Sri Lanka (1994)
Sheikh Hasina – Prime Minister, Bangladesh (1996-2001, 2008 onwards)

While the United States of America is yet to vote for Hillary Clinton, we, in South Asia have already seen six female heads of government, serving a sum total of 12 terms.

The numbers of women in leadership positions have sparked a global debate, for quite some time now. When in actuality, there are a lot of strong, brilliant women who are leaders, clearly they are not enough, not enough in business, and most certainly not enough in politics.

Studies demonstrate that as gaps are being closed between men and women, in access to education, in healthcare, and even in economic participation, the most difficult gap to close is in political participation.

Also read: From world stage to economic center stage: Pakistani women, let the rise begin

Why is that we don’t see many politician mothers around? Are women not aspiring, are they not ambitious or are they simply not power hungry?

I believe it is the political infrastructure which is holding our women back. Our political system is indisputably a patriarchal one, creating an invisible but virtually impenetrable barrier to women’s political participation.

Due to the negative connotation the word politics has, right from our school days, through college and especially at our workplaces, everything incomprehensible starts getting termed as ‘school politics’, ‘college politics’ and ‘office politics’. So, while women may be seen as school captains, college club presidents and community leaders, when it comes to the state level or the parliamentary level, there is one inherent question, whether women even want to enter the nasty game of real politics?

Most of the women who do enter politics locally, ultimately choose not to run for the top office. Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States, said in 1920s: Women going into politics should have the skin of a rhinoceros.

A century later, it appears not much has changed.

Also read: Policing Mathira, Deepika — and all South Asian women

Many even argue that the path to power is more apt to run through the C-suite than the halls of the Parliament.

Once, when I was discussing the organisation’s yearly plans and my own ambitions, somebody at work remarked, “You can take it easy, you are a woman!”

We can’t stop our male colleagues from saying this, but what we can do is ‘stop taking it easy’, more so when we are asked to.

Studies show that, globally, women represent around 10 per cent of all board-level positions, and just in India, 8 per cent of the top 50 Indian CEOs are women. In proportion to our representation in the global work force, these numbers clearly show how women leaders are equally, and at times, even more competent than their male counterparts.

However, the higher we climb up the ladder, the lower our numbers drop.

I have just begun my career and most of the time, I find myself as the only female in the room. I have, however, learnt that the more important thing is to not leave the room!

We need to advance our careers, negotiate our salaries, demand flexible working arrangements, speak for ourselves to get to the top, where frankly, we deserve to be.

Be it in politics, be it in business – let’s demand that both men and women sit together as decision-makers with equal powers. That would be the start of a cultural and social change.

It’s time we stop teaching our children, Moms cook and Dads work! It’s time we tell our daughters to write their own destiny and tell our sons to respect the women in their lives, and be equal partners at home. Let’s usher in a time when our men and not just women will be asked: how do you balance work and family?

India’s youngest female Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani righty says,

“A leader is someone who takes you where you want to be,
A female leader is someone who takes you where you ought to be.”

The world matters to us and it is time we mattered to the world.

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