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Working Women 'still do Housework'

Padmaja Iyengar
Padmaja Iyengar
Senior Consultant, Foundation for Futuristic Cities
Padmaja had served for over three decades in different geographic locations as a senior banking p... more>>
Working women still do housework – Isn’t that stating the obvious…? Whenever I think of my three decades+ career as a senior banking professional, a single parent and a home maker, I remember all those 5 am wake-up alarms, hurried cooking, packing lunch boxes for my son, rushing out to catch the 8.10 am Janakpuri-Connaught Place chartered bus to reach my work place by 9 am at Connaught Circus, New Delhi after ensuring that my son was ready for school and striding straight into the kitchen after returning from the bank at 9-9.30 pm. Being a single parent also required me never to miss the all-important PTA meetings at my son’s school. And then, there was the buying of vegetables for the entire week at the Janakpuri Saturday market which needed meticulous planning, such that the vegetables properly lasted till the next Saturday. I am sure; this is the routine with slight changes here and there, of most working woman in India barring a few exceptions.

Mercifully, I had no in-laws, no full-time domestic help or anyone else at home except my son…But often, there’d be friends and relatives from South who’d camp at my place during their Agra, Rishikesh, Haridwar, Badrinath etc. trips…! I must, however, confess to a sense of guilt that I couldn’t give much time to my son in his growing years and couldn’t entertain guests as much as I’d have liked to…

Is there a working woman in India, who doesn’t do housework? Even the high, salaried ones who may be able to afford a battery of help, cannot avoid housework. The cook almost invariably asks the lady of the house about the menu or informs only her when the gas cylinder is over. When the driver needs an advance, he’d much rather appeal to the feminine ‘humane’nity of Madam…When the maid needs Chutti, she turns to Madam. And it’s the working woman, who checks out if everything’s ok at home before rushing out for work. I believe that planning a menu in a way that all needs are taken care of till one returns home or managing maids, drivers, cooks etc. is like running a parallel administration at home along with office work… Counseling and helping maids, lending them a sympathetic ear no matter how busy one is, are also a part of the housework that a working woman has to deftly handle...

As for the less fortunate, middle and lower class working women, it’s a daily, non-stop 5 am- 11pm routine for most part of their lives…with no domestic help either in the form of maids or in-laws at home. The lower class working woman is generally the bread winner with often a husband who is an alcoholic and wouldn’t hesitate to beat her up or the kids if his wishes are not fulfilled.

It’s an accepted and a natural way of life for the Indian working women to do housework. It’s no big deal! From the time they are born, the conditioning starts. House work first starts like a game with dolls and toys that consist of a set of pressure cooker, gas-stove, mixer etc. As she grows up, her gradual initiation into household chores is a natural progression.

In the lower class homes, the eldest girl, no matter what her age is, invariably looks after her younger siblings and attends to a major part of the house work while her mother is out. When she is older, her younger sister takes over her mantle while she sets out to earn a livelihood to support her growing family.

It is a common practice that if the mother is a working woman, she turns to her daughter for help. She’ll look up to her son only for the ‘manly’ jobs like fixing some electrical glitches or when an electronic item needs to be purchased or repaired…

The current generation of men does deserve a pat on the back. Quite a few of them, share the housework, drop the kid at school, help out at home, take leave when the kid is unwell, buy provisions and vegetables,  and so on. However, this happens more in nuclear families than joint families. In India, if a man helps out in housework, it’s still considered a favor and not a routine. And such a man is viewed with great admiration, wonderment and envy by other women…!

When a woman enters her professional career, she is told to think like a man, act like a lady and work like a dog if she aspires to compete with her male counterparts or create at least a small crack in the proverbial glass ceiling. However, at home, it is dinned into her that she is just a wife, a mother, a daughter, a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law (today, there are homes where both the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are working women). She should not bring office work home or talk shop at home. It is perfectly natural for the man to be in a “discussion” on his cell phone or a conference call on the dining table, in the bed room and even the bathroom.

Many husbands boast that they have “permitted” their wife to work while it is no secret that aspirations like owning a home, appliances, gadgets, savings for future etc., can be fulfilled only with both the husband and wife going out to work. However, her economic independence and office work responsibilities have no relevance when it comes to the working woman handling housework.

In India, doing housework is still and largely considered a woman’s job – whether she is working or not. If the maid or cook doesn’t turn up, then it’s the woman who quickly enters the kitchen to rustle up something and clear the sink…Not everyone can afford to order food from outside. Work life balance hardly exists for the Indian working women. In fact, except the employees from the IT / ITES sector and some other top notch women executives, very few Indian working women are even aware that a concept like work life balance exists….!

So, working women (still) doing housework – I repeat – is stating the obvious…! …..AND the Indian working women are the perfect role models for multi tasking with great aplomb!

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