Author’s note: This article does not suggest practices of any particular organisation(s) and is merely a reflection of practices across sectors and geography. (Translation: if the shoes fit, feel free to take a walk!)
Him: Happy women’s day.
Her: Thank you.
Him: Why aren’t you dressed up like others today?
Him: Come on, it is your day, you must look good and feel special!
If you find yourself amidst all the pinkness in cubicles, mailers and posters and are left wondering if there was a paintball mishap, don’t worry, this is International Women’s Day. Come 8th March, and office spaces are buzzing with IWD celebrations. There are boxes kept for anonymous “Ms. Pretty” contests where employees have to drop in their suggestions. It is the day to ‘pamper’ and ‘spoil’ your women folk, the posters read. “Hey beauties!”, begins the mailer from the location HR, “Dress in your best attire and turn some heads!”; there is no other way to address the ladies today. Some men-folk are grumpy that nobody “celebrates” them (never mind centuries of a culture of celebrating masculinity and manhood). And you are tired telling them that is not the point of women’s day to begin with, coming across as an absolute woman-hating jerk, because why else will you oppose something that is “one day for women”?
Her 1: I think we must not work today.
Her 2: Why so?
Her 1: It is women’s day! It is our day to enjoy and party.
Her 2: Do you know this year’s IWD theme? (it is Women in the Changing World of Work)
The inherent problem with celebrating International Women’s day the way we do however is that it is not a celebration at all. It is a day to commemorate women’s rights- the arduous journey women all over the world have charted to be treated equally in electoral politics, economies, property inheritance systems, autonomy over one’s body, so on and so forth. In other words, women’s day is not about celebrating prettiness, gentleness (“the weaker sex” eh!) and hundred other objectifying objectives; it is simply an opportunity to highlight real gaps in achieving equal treatment of women (and for me, it is even beyond this gender binary, but that is a tall order)
Do not get me wrong though, if women want to have a day for themselves to let their hair down and look beautiful and pamper and spoil themselves, I am nobody to deny that experience and expression. However, I do not know if these women are empowered enough to ask questions like “thanks for the spa coupon. By the way, where is my equal pay for equal work?”. This discourse is important to have and time is running out. According to UNDP’s The Human Development Report 2016, a measly 13.8% of India’s ‘legislators, senior officials and managers’ are women. According to Monster Salary Index, the gender pay gap in India stands at 27% and labour force participation has reduced from 34% in 2000 to 27% in 2014 according to The World Bank. Regulator SEBI in February 2015 made it mandatory to have at least one woman on the board and has come down with heavy criticism on non-compliant companies ever since. It is another matter that SEBI itself doesn’t not have a woman on its board and has asked the government to make the appointments.
Them 1: Women’s day is sexist.
Them 2: Why do you say so?
Them 1: Because they get all gifts and free vouchers to salon and spa and we get nothing.
Them 2: But that is not the point of women’s day...
Them 1: Whatever, it is unfair.
The issue with making IWD only about beauty contests, spas and salon is that it becomes easier to dismiss the real gaps in achieving gender parity and equity. This is not to diss the IWD celebration efforts in Indian corporate in entirety. Some do tread with thought and sensitivity towards the cause. Concept of diversity and inclusion is only just evolving in Indian workspaces. Some companies have partnered with medical organisations to offer free medical checkups for women employees. Skill-based courses are being offered to women (instead of just the annual ‘self-defence’ and ‘body image grooming’ ones); things that will make women more employable, more effective in their roles. Affirmative action in terms of recruitment drives for women are welcome. Steps like week long seminars for all employees (not just women) on creating awareness on issues of women at work (biases, harassment and other things they do not talk about) and how the scales are already tipped against working mothers can go a long way in bringing perspective among men employees.
Naren is a former automotive design professional, now "figuring out the world with a pen and a notepad". He is passionate about social justice, diversity and inclusion through policy initiatives and "might just do something about it one of these days".