Working women are the hardest hit because they have to juggle family life and career. However among this lot too Indian women are the most stressed. Though women today are an important part of the workforce in India, there is discrimination in the work places. More women face sexual harassment in workplaces than men.
Their caliber is doubted despite the same qualifications and commitment towards work as their male counterparts. A young woman IPS trainee recalled how one of her superiors would give orders to her male junior who reported to her instead of communicating directly with her. Discrimination exists even among white-collared jobs in established companies. Most women however choose to ignore his and try to ‘compromise’ with this discrimination.
Situations have definitely improved but this workplace gender bias still exists. After having faced these problems in their workplaces home provides no respite. According to psychologists Indian society hasn't kept pace with social expectations at homes changing little. “It is this contrast, this conflict that is causing the stress.” The missing social support and the physical infrastructure (think crèches, reliable house help, etc) are building a lot of stress.
In the advertising world we can clearly see how these stereotypes exist with the image of a "Superwoman" who juggles her job, her kid's homework, takes care of her in-laws, clears up after her husband and still smiles and looks like a model. Why? Because she uses a particular brand of cleaning liquid or eats a particular brand of power food. And because she is a woman she is supposed to celebrate this aspect of her "womanhood". These are the mental images that exist in our mind and that of the present lot of working women. So they feel guilty if they are not able to live up to the expectations of the society and most of the times their own.
Housework is still considered "woman's work" even if she is the CEO of an MNC.
Future Brands CEO Santosh Desai gives another reason. Earlier women had little control over their lives and now at least in urban India they have gained control with education and jobs. "So while their sense of helplessness has decreased, many of these women are feeling stress which is self inflicted," he says.
Many of these women are the first generation in their families stepping out to work. And most strive to maintain continuity with the roles their mothers played at home-managing house, relationships and rearing children. "They have added a lot of extra work. But subtracted very little. It is this work overload that is creating stress for them," adds Desai.
This stress has adverse effects on physical and emotional well-being of women. Depression, disturbed monthly cycles, hormonal imbalances and many other health related issues are increasing among women at an alarming rate. Apart from the woman, the entire family is affected.
A stressed out and guilt-ridden mother cannot contribute to the healthy development of her child nor can she be a good manager. This stress epidemic needs to be controlled not only for the health of women but for our entire social structure to survive.
If you are a woman, you need to value yourself. Communication is very important. You need to communicate this to your husband and children and your family that you are not invincible. Ask for help and don’t bind yourself under the stereotypes of a 'perfect' woman. You need to remind yourself that it is not necessary to be able to get a promotion, cook the best meals, have a pretty house, please all your relatives and have a perfect figure. You are beautiful with your strengths and weaknesses together.
Also don't shy away from seeking professional help. Approach your workplace counselor if the situation at work has become very difficult for you to manage.
If you see your mother, your sister or your wife struggling with the same situation offer your help and be understanding of their situation. Try and make them seek professional help.
In the end we need to respect and celebrate womanhood without any strings attached.
(The article is a joint contribution of Counselling Psychologist Anu Goel and Aastha Sethi)