Several companies and MNCs are planning special Women’s Day celebrations. But is the change more than surface deep?
Feminism has different connotations, assumes different forms, elicits different responses. For some, it’s a call for fairness and equality. For others, it’s a worrisome questioning of an established order.
A panel consisting of Urvashi Butalia, founder of the feminist publishing house, Zubaan; comedian Radhika Vaz; author Aparna Jain; co-founder of Quint, Ritu Kapur and Chief HR Officer at Citi South Asia, Anuranjita Kumar, discussed various aspects of the issue at Delhi’s first ‘Women Writers’ Festival’ organised by SheThePeople.TV and Vedika Scholars Programme for Women.
For Women’s Day, many companies are planning events and tokens of appreciation for their women staffers. Does this mean that feminism has been sorted at least in the workplace?
“No, is the short answer,” says Urvashi. “What does it indicate, women becoming sexy? In the last 20 years we have seen feminism moving out of the streets, where women were demonstrating for their rights, into the corporate, government and advertisement space. I think it is merely lip service. But I think it also marks the beginning of some change, because we cannot deny that it is happening and this festival itself is a sign of that. A festival like this would not have happened 20 years ago. It is brilliant that it is happening and young men and women are coming together to understand what feminism is all about. But the change is still on a surface level, it is fluff.”
Anuranjita agrees, “At MNCs there will be mehndi celebrations and spa vouchers or meal vouchers with your husbands for Women’s Day. But do these things indicate progress? And despite all the attention the corporate sector seems to be putting into Women’s Day, the numbers have not changed. There is a lot of awareness about diversity ratio, how many women are being hired. But are these things really helping women? All of these events and policies have been planned by men. If you ask women what they want on Women’s Day, there is no single answer.”
Talking about the diversity ratio in organisations, Ritu says, “While hiring I try to be gender neutral because you want to hire talent. I am not hiring with gender in my mind, but it so happens that 70 per cent of my team consists of women. There arise different issues with that as well. As a working woman, many times you are going back home late at night. While many of these young women complain that they are capable of going back home on their own, I insist on them being accompanied by someone. I say that going back home alone is something to aspire towards for women, but in this scenario, I want to be able to go to sleep knowing my employees are safe. I don’t have quick and easy answers but it is a long journey.”
While these issues won’t stop Ritu from hiring women and look at hiring in a gender-neutral way, Urvashi believes one has to actively hire women and not be gender-neutral. “Many times women are disadvantaged as there happen to be several barriers at home. So I actively hire women. We even cook meals in office so women don’t have to cook at home and the men who come, their wives don’t have to cook for them. We even try to babysit their children because we understand the challenges.”
Radhika too believes that women at times are not trained for certain jobs because of the many disadvantages they face, “But if you actively hire them, they come in with a fresh perspective. Just because of their perspective, they end up being better in many cases.”
She laughs, “There was not enough misogyny in the corporate world that I had to join the entertainment sector.” On a serious note, she adds, “Most of the people taking decisions on the panels, committees and board rooms happen to be men. Even in comedy, the jokes in most shows have become similar and repetitive. And they are used to that kind of comedy. So I have seen men cringing in my shows, they are horrified. What change has really happened then?”
Appropriation of feminism on a surface level, termed ‘Pink Washing’, needs a change for which women like Anuranjita are taking small steps. “For Women’s Day this year, we have introduced a new concept. We are encouraging people to bring their spouse, mother and mother-in-law to office this Women’s Day. We plan to have a gender-sensitisation training and talk about feminism there. It is much needed because a lot of the career choices that women are making are not their own decisions. They go home and take advice from their family, who in turn may or may not have the best suggestions to give,” she says, citing example of women at her company who leave their jobs for trivial reasons after consulting their families and husbands.
While feminism is empowering, and most women want to celebrate Women’s Day, there are also many women who do not want to wear the label of a feminist. “The opposite of feminism is a**hole, so you have a choice,” quips Radhika.
Although Urvashi adds, “Labels don’t make a difference as long as you do the right thing. In Hindi, feminism roughly translates into narivaad, which comes nowhere close to describing what feminism is. Many people have even used the word womanist instead of feminist to describe themselves, and that is fine.”