The Urban Woman Has Quit Her Career

The modern culture in India asks of women to prove their worth by going out of the house and rub shoulders with men at offices. But the modern Indian culture hasn’t asked of men to step up and share the load at homes. I’m folding laundry and blazing through my daily Youtube quota when a […]

The modern culture in India asks of women to prove their worth by going out of the house and rub shoulders with men at offices. But the modern Indian culture hasn’t asked of men to step up and share the load at homes.

I’m folding laundry and blazing through my daily Youtube quota when a statistic shocks me. Between 2005–2016, 20 million women stopped working in India
In 2021, only 22.8% of working age women hold jobs.

Wait, what?

Aren’t more women getting college degrees these days? Well, shouldn’t that number be filtering into the job ocean? For one, you definitely see more women out and about with their briefcase-lookalike handbags. But the numbers don’t lie. And they tell a story.
India’s female labor force participation rate (FLFPR: the total number of working women) is the lowest among South Asian nations, about 28% in 2022. Ouch.

This statistic has, however, improved upto a jaw dropping 34% in 2023, as per the Indian government. But there’s a catch there, and we’ll come to that.

Women of the World — are we reeling yet?

Now, you may think a lot of India resides in just villages. Conservative, patriarchal set-ups where women aren’t allowed to go out into a man’s world.

Right, here’s another blow to the jaw. In cities, 67% of men of working age are employed. Can you guess what’s that rate for women of working age? 23%. Yes, you read that right. Twenty three percent. For context, I am that statistic. I am your typical urban woman. So I’m like — seriously, what? We are a thriving economy. The World Bank ranks India as the sixth largest economy. Is that all men, then? Questions like this one begin to torment me every day.

Meanwhile, more women have pulled out of the workforce during the pandemic. Data shows that they’re the first to quit and the last to return to the workplace. Now I don’t have a statistic to back this up, but trust me when I say that Indian women love education and they are want to do productive work. What is stopping us?

Let me begin with my own example. I was born in a city into a service-class family. My parents have a strong work ethic. Education was vital. In India, parents – if they have the means – fund their children’s education until college graduation. Mine did too, and I graduated as a lawyer. Since then, I’ve worked as a corporate lawyer for over 14 years. Now, I own an independent law practice. I’m also a professional writer and a published author.

In India, most middle to upper-middle-class income families sponsor their daughter’s college degrees. All my girlfriends and female family members are, at least, college graduates. However, this reality does not transpire into the workforce. In fact, most urban women drop out of jobs as they grow older.

I haven’t. Yet. So, I’ve made a list of the factors that allow me to get to work every day.
Urban marriages of India

Marriage is still the norm here. Occasionally, you see a spinster in their 40s. Most Indian women get married in their early twenties. This means you start taking care of an entire household much earlier. By the time women reach their late twenties, they’re moms.
I, on the other hand, got married at 27 and a half.

In my generation — for context, I grew up in the 90s — mothers brought up their sons with no life skills. They can’t cook, clean, do laundry, nothing. But that’s not the case for their daughters. A daughter is expected to attend school and lay the table for every meal. Mothers teach their daughters to chop veggies, iron clothes, water the plants, everything.

This creates a big disparity in the way Indian men and women view the matrimonial unit. Firstly, men aren’t given the same skill set that their wives are brought up with. So, a married man is still a beginner in the home department while the woman is at an intermediate level.

Now, humans hate change. And marriage is a monumental life change. How willing a human would be if they have to learn one thousand new skills on top of adjusting with a new person? Keep in mind that a lot of marriages in India are arranged. This means that most newlyweds don’t really let their hair down until after the wedding. Marriages planned by society need rules to subsist. And we’re well aware of what those rules are.
In contrast, my husband and I fell in love and got married. We both belong to different castes. The people in our community are surprised that everything went so smoothly, without any opposition from our families.

My husband — poor, lovely man — often tries to help me out in the kitchen. But he’s fantastically terrible at the skilled tasks: chopping, assembling, handling hot pots. The work increases when he’s around. So, I end up banishing him to the ‘side-job’ domain — squeezing lemon juice into the salad, peeling garlic, arranging the fridge, cleaning spills. Look, it’s not my fault either. We both work from home. Mealtimes on workdays are usually a hot mess. It’s hard to summon the energy to teach from scratch. Ah, someday.
That said, most Indian men grow up unwilling and simply incapable of handling house chores. If some of them — like my husband — want to learn, then it’s the wife’s job to bring them up to speed.

Now, let’s talk about the other side. If perchance, a woman isn’t taught the chores by her mother, it’s expected that she will pick up after marriage. How does this take place? Basically, she’s showed the kitchen and left to her own devices. It’s happened to so many of my girlfriends. (Secretly, I thank God that my mother taught me everything before I got married. Managing a new home is less trying if you know when to add the masala.)
Men and women grow up seeing the mother (whether working or homemaker) pick up chores at home. The narrative is that the wife carries on the same way. After all, there’s nothing special about a woman chopping potatoes or dusting cobwebs. That’s her job. But a man boiling a pot of tea is a double rainbow. Sadly, that remains the home culture of India. And of course, it’s easier for men to accept it because they’re on the greener pasture. (There are exceptions but they only prove the rule.)
City life

Like most urban couples, we live by ourselves. What does this two-person household mean for the modern Indian woman? That there is no other family member to help out with the house chores. No mother-in-law to look after the baby or cook dinner.

You have no option but to employ house help. Who’s the house help? It’s a woman. Even then, there are a thousand chores you cannot delegate. So, you get back from work to invest the rest of your day in taking care of the family needs.

How willing would the modern Indian woman is to take upon the responsibility of a full-fledged career? This is the reason why women are just quitting their careers. It’s sheer labor, and not only is there too much of it, but also that it’s never-ending. Not until your kid gets into college — no — until they get married. But it returns when they birth kids.
And labor, like love, blooms as infinite lotus. There’s the physical labor of prepping meals, packing tiffins, doing dishes, cleaning counters. Then there’s the mental and emotional labor of bringing up children, organizing birthdays and anniversaries, keeping lists, planning menus, and listening to endless complaints.

Add to this the fact that the average urban husband now earns well. So, there’s no financial motivator to push the woman out the door.
Pathetic work culture

Shortly after I married, I gave a job interview. The HR was surprised when I revealed I was newlywed. She looked me up and down, raised her eyebrows when she found no trace of a wedding on my person. No vermillion in my hair, no red bangles, not even a giant solitaire.
Then she asked me a startling question. How soon was I planning a child? In the next year? It took me a minute to gather my wits. But that question stayed with me. Since then, I’ve asked countless women about it. Turns out it’s common practice.

There is little concept of paternity leave in India. So, men don’t have the same barrier (or benefit) of maternity leave that women do. Working late is still the preferred culture at offices while women’s safety still remains a big concern in India. State laws make it incumbent upon employers to ensure the safety of women employees when working at odd hours. This means extra cabs and security expenses for the employer. It’s just easier for companies to hire men. No wonder it’s usually a man looking down from the top floors of corporate skyscrapers.

And here’s what sources tell you when you want to find out what is the urban Indian woman doing when not working? It’s domestic duties. Why? Because no one else will do it. The actual reports says this, not just me and my girlfriends.
Look, I’m that statistic. And I’ve done it all. I’m that urban woman who got married in her twenties and lives in a nuclear family. I’m also aware of how lucky I am to be the master of my destiny.

But these statistics need to change.

The modern culture in India asks of women to prove their worth by going out of the house and rub shoulders with men at offices. But the modern Indian culture hasn’t asked of men to step up and share the load at homes.

It’s time men get back home on time and share the burden with women. At the kitchen sink, at the dining table, before the washing machine, and especially at the baby cots.
As long as this perceptive shift doesn’t happen, women will either be confined indoors building homes upon their backs forever suspended in animation like a frozen juggler.
Men of India, come out and help. It’s your work, too. And it’s your home, too.

P.S. Oh, and if you want to know about the catch i.e. how we upped the female labour force participation so quickly in just a few years? Surprise, surprise. They’re all in the rural sector, and they’re all self-employed workers known as ‘unpaid helpers’. They work on a money-generating activities but they don’t get paid for it.

Sonia Chauhan is a professional writer and a corporate lawyer. She writes technical reports for government and private think tanks and academic institutions. She loves writing fiction and is the author of award-winning novella, This Maze of Mirrors.