Patriarchy is essentially a system of male domination in diverse aspects of life such as moral authority, social privilege, decision making, control of property, political leadership et al.
Patriarchy impacts the position of a middle class working woman in the following manner:
- By undervaluing her contribution to decision making – since she is not considered intelligent or smart enough to take decisions. This happens at both the familial level as well as at work. This undervaluation results in low confidence and low productivity, while depriving them of the opportunity to showcase their talent.
- By providing lower wages – as compared to the male counterpart, despite the same position and type of work. Indian IT sector saw the highest gender wage gap of 27%. This happens since women are perceived to be less useful to the company as they take frequent leaves for maternity etc.
- “Glass ceiling” effect – Female employees are seldom considered for promotions above a certain grade, since the patriarchal mindset considers them unsuitable. The new Companies Act makes it mandatory to have a woman Director on the company board.
- By censoring her financial choices – since the male member takes all the financial decisions in the family.
- By overburdening her – with both the household work and the office work, since household work is considered the sole domain of a woman with the man having no responsibility in the daily chores. Males of the household consider works such as washing clothes, cooking etc. as beneath them.
- By social ostracization – from other family members, especially the female members who do not work. The latter see themselves and are considered as “ideal women” who stay at home and take care of the household.
Working women face an ironical situation wherein their financial contribution to the household is appreciated but the very act of working is frowned upon.
- Institutionalization of laws that perpetuate this condition – the recently passed Maternity Benefits Act increases the Maternity leave to 26 weeks, with no mention of paternal leave (unlike other developed countries). Though passed with good intention, this implicitly points to the fact that the upbringing of children is the sole responsibility of the mother.
- By affronting her dignity – with frequent incidences of sexual harassment at workplace. In the recent years, government has enacted legislation to prevent that (on the lines of SC’s Vishakha guidelines). Companies have set up dedicated committees to address this, but we are far from achieving the desired goals.
- By deciding what work a woman can or cannot do – factories don’t allow women to work night shifts, nor do they have provisions for crèches and proper transport. The ostensible reason for this is a patriarchal society which considers females weaker or inferior to males. Recent amendments to the Factories’ Act seek to reverse some of these anomalies.
Moreover, patriarchy affects the males as well. It dictates that males should act “brave and strong”, and “be the breadwinner” and the “head of the family”. This prevents the males from taking on any role that the patriarchy does not ordain for them, such as staying at home and bringing up the kids or cooking food.
Gender equality, which has already been realized as quintessential for inclusive development, is also one of the 17 SDGs. The goals notwithstanding, it is our ethical responsibility to provide equal opportunity to the neglected half of the world’s population, and for this, patriarchy must make way for more equitable social systems.