Are women truly empowered in developed countries?

A truly empowering moment for me as a working mother came when I could choose to go on a 2.5 month long assignment to a different country, miles apart leaving my daughter behind. Why do I call it empowering? Thats because I could exercise my choice here, my free will, not obligated to make a decision in favour of or against a particular alternative, half heartedly. For those who know me and read me, I have said this multiple times and will keep saying it. I am one of those who aspires the corner office, its this aspiration which I wake up to each day and which propels me forward. I have heard from many that its not easy, especially for a woman- its not really a fair world and hey its a man’s world. I do know there are things beyond my control and I am consciously practising to let go and accept things when I know the decision wasn’t something I could control- it ain’t easy.  Despite knowing these limitations, there is this feeling which constantly overpowers me – the one in the pit of my stomach to go out there and achieve me dreams. So I have decided to follow my heart and work towards making my dreams a reality , at the same time reminding myself to not get bogged down when things beyond my control don’t work in my favour.

The silver lining for me was this business trip for 2.5 months to Switzerland which helped me gain new experiences, personally as well professionally. I was amazed at how well I could cope with the setbacks I faced, of course I cried but I rose, dressed up in my best attire, put that glossy lipstick on and showed up at work. By evening I felt the pain had diminished and I was looking forward to my glass of wine and some me time which is so precious and rarity back home.

I had the chance to meet a senior woman leader in Zurich. Meeting women who have achieved success at work is always something I look forward to. First of all there are a handful of them, secondly it gives me hope and courage to see myself in the same place some day, hopefully mentoring a younger woman and showing  her the ropes.

This meeting helped throw light about the career of women and the social situation in Switzerland. I was under the impression that gender diversity is not as big an issue as in India. Women are more empowered, bold, their spouses are supportive- a woman is lucky to be living and working here. I had read that Switzerland ranks 3rd in a study conducted for women’s safety and well being.  My notions were shattered , I realised there are things that are common between India and Switzerland and this particular one was definetely not one I was proud of.

Childcare for one is alarmingly expensive in Switzerland. The timings are also very rigid and extensions beyond the fixed working hours are punitive. Family support in the form of grandparents is not a part of the culture, I dint hear of a single couple who left their kids with their parents.

Children start schooling only at the age of 5 which means till they reach that age they need to be taken care of at home or in a day care. The school has a very long lunch break almost 2 hours where kids go back home, have their lunch and then go back to school for lessons. Working parents often find this 2 hour break challenging to manage. Its right in the middle of a workday!

Unless a woman is at a very high position earning really good money, it makes no sense monetarily for them to continue working after having kids as all the money earned is spent on daycare with almost a pittance as saving. If you have more than one kid, the expenses just doubled! This is the reason why most women make a decision (I would call it a forced choice) of taking a career break. A statement that hit me hard was “People dont really understand why women want to work”. With the exorbitant cost of hiring a nanny, when all the money earned is spent in paying for childcare- does it make sense? Don’t we work for money? The fact that a woman may want to work because it gives her a new identity, self satisfaction, a life beyond her house and kids- this is something that most fail to comprehend.

The good thing is men do share the responsibility of parenting, I was pleasantly surprised to see many Dads with their kids, managing them effortlessly – at times there were 3 kids with scooters and a dad running all over the place! However when it comes to taking the decision of taking a career break, its the woman who most often needs to take the penalty.

It was heartening to see despite this challenging atmosphere women are coming forward and trying to make it work- most importantly for themselves. The culture has evolved in Switzerland  and more and more corporates are opening up their doors and embracing diversity -Flexible working arrangements, career comeback, mentoring, companies are using innovative methods to attract and retain a diverse workforce.

Hearing the challenges of women in Switzerland made me feel thankful for the support we women have back home, we do have grandparents who are happy to lend support. We have daycares and maids which are not perfect but more accommodative than the ones here.

In my case, my mother’s wholehearted support in bringing up my daughter is the reason I come home at 11 pm most nights and don’t have to worry if my little girl is fine.

It is the reason I could embark on this journey, living apart from my daughter for 2.5 months knowing she is being cared for in the best possible way.

Its the reason I continue chasing my dreams and don’t have to make a forced choice of putting my career on a backseat because I have a young child to care for.

I was left with a unhappy feeling to see how women are the ones who most often need to sacrifice their aspirations and dreams and this is a reality not just in India but one of the most developed countries as well. It shattered my misconceptions about life being easy as a woman abroad – your gender doesn’t really matter I always thought. But it also left me with hope for a better tomorrow as I see women irrespective of class, creed, county, status, religion fight for themselves – be vocal, demand that their partners share the responsibility, ask for flexible work arrangements, talk about their aspirations and wok relentlessly towards creating a world where we are truly empowered. We will get there someday and that will be a proud day for all of us for we know we had a role to play in this movement. I do hope when our daughters are faced with this decision, the path they take is truly one that makes them happy and is not a sacrifice they need to make.

(Image courtesy- myswissalps.com)

This post is part of the #FeministMondays series (previously called #IAmAFeminist series) hosted by Nabanita. Inspired by a TEDx talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – We Should All Be Feminists. 

Linking this post to #MondayMusings hosted by  Corinne.

mondaymusings-1-2

 

 

8 thoughts on “Are women truly empowered in developed countries?

  1. Great post Akshata. Women have to sacrifice more to the altar of parenting almost everywhere. It is a deeply ingrained mindset & men doing the sacrificing seems unimaginable, even to the women. Posts like these help remind us that there is no rational reason behind such thinking and remind us to re-evaluate the staus quo.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Enlightening post. I was not aware of this, thanks for sharing. Yeah, the cost of living is definitely high in EU (especially Swiss) is what I have read. I have even read that the children are to be treated very carefully and there are standard norms to be followed, unlike here in India.
    I once read that an Indian kid complained to her teacher of her mother hitting and scolding her, in response to which the parents were taken into custody.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The dynamics of living abroad is completely different. Most don’t burden grandparents because once they grow old they too after all need a life. Maids are extremely expensive because every job has minimum wages, which in turn is important for a better society.
    But the struggle of women to break glass ceiling and not be bracketed into a particular category is the same every where. We often have to prove ourselves forcefully in every step to move ahead, specially in a male dominated sector.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. True Raj – the utopian world would be one where the mother and father jointly own parenting and the burden doesn’t just fall on the mother but we have a long way to go. Not having family support and expensive childcare makes it all the more tough. Not saying there isn’t s rationale to it just that it made life of women much more difficult

      Like

  4. Akshata, an interesting post that clears misconception on positive prejudice that many have about the west posing as the Eldorado of facilities. I think every country has their own pros and cons where women need to battle things at every end to make things work out for them. Thanks for writing about it.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s