Tuesday, June 18, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Women at work

Where does a working woman fit into our society?

Update : 06 Oct 2022, 12:16 AM

In a world where women are still struggling with getting into certain professions, where a hot topic is gender-based pay disparity, discussing issues like perceptions and linguistics might be observed as a first-world problem. However, the biggest discrimination might start with simple words. This discrimination can impact a woman in both personal and professional life. To understand this issue, first we need to understand women’s current positioning in society.

According to the Institute for Women’s Leadership, only 24% of leadership positions, globally, are taken by women. Women account for around 49% of the general workforce in the world. But the history of women in the workforce has a direct impact on the current positioning of women in society.

In the prehistoric times women and men chose roles and responsibilities which helped their survival in a very vulnerable environment. The idea of “man the hunter” was that all the men were hunters and all the women were gatherers. But when anthropologist Carol Ember surveyed 179 societies, she found 13 societies in which women participated in hunting. This explains that it wasn’t about strength but about the environment and the circumstances.

This got me wondering.

I am a young professional who has her own struggles but a very recent incident made me think about the language and the approach attached to said language. I work in a development organization which has been promoting women’s freedom of mobility by encouraging women to enter the profession of driving. Because of field visits I use official vehicles very often which are mostly driven by women. The first time I was in a car driven by a woman driver was when I was in school. The memory of that time wasn’t very pleasant, it seemed like chaos. It was a small road where she was driving her car and the situation became such that people around us started blaming her for the traffic.

Now that I recall, it wasn’t her as a person they were blaming but they were blaming her because of her gender. “Women can’t drive cars,” one person said. Which brings me to today when I regularly work with women who drive me all over the city and even outside the city. Somehow, with time, this perception has changed. From “women can’t drive” it has now become amazement, surprise, shock, and even respect. Out of curiosity, one day I asked one of the experienced drivers, “how has been your professional journey throughout the years?” She replied that it was tough initially. People would discredit her, and that anyone and everyone on the roads would try to advise her on how to drive a car. 

People from her village didn’t believe that she drove. They thought she probably works as a house help and is lying about her driving career. They told her things like, “It is very hard to drive a car. Women can’t.”

“After many years, now the perception has changed a little but the suggestive nature of any man on the streets is the same,” she said.

All of this made me wonder how the perception of people changes, for good or bad, when we add “female” in front of the word “driver,” or for that matter any other profession which is male dominant. As a feminist, who is both learning and unlearning every day, I wonder, while making a conversation about someone’s profession, should I mention or give importance to the gender of the person.

Even in the global entertainment business women, especially actors and directors, are raising their voices against terms such as “actress,” “female centric film” etc. The logic being that an actor is an actor and a film is a film -- a film’s central character’s gender is not important.

But my dilemma is whether it is actually unnecessary to mention the gender of the profession.

It has been acknowledged widely that women face glass ceilings and sticky floors in their professional lives. I understand why the gender of a profession doesn’t need to be mentioned but on the other hand it is very important to acknowledge the hardship women go through. Our patriarchal society has positioned modern women in a way that gives an illusion of a “perfect woman,” who is a multitasker, who is empowered enough to earn, presentable, and is also a caregiver to her family.

These expectations don't let a woman climb the stairs as easily as a man. At the same time, the thought that women are not capable enough or dedicated enough to be able to roll out big tasks holds back women even further. 

As a feminist it upsets me to be discriminated, whether it is positive or negative discrimination. But it is necessary to positively discriminate at times. The issue that comes up with the positive discrimination is that it at times starts evolving as pity and explained as incapability. Sometimes, in the name of respect, people tend to glorify doubting capacity.

This comes as an obstacle in the path of equality -- equality for every gender. Equality is being given the same opportunities regardless of gender, race, class, caste, faith, etc. With equal opportunity the world will be equal for every individual. 

Simin Ibnat Dharitree is Social Compliance Developer, Social Compliance, BRAC.

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