More women could work if they had secure and safe facilities for their children | columns | Hindustan Times
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More women could work if they had secure and safe facilities for their children

Crippled by illiteracy and lack of opportunity, many women are condemned to a life of child bearing and rearing because they have no skills to join the job market and even if they could, cannot afford the kind of care that they would like for their children.

columns Updated: Mar 24, 2017 13:15 IST
Lalita Panicker
Mira Rajput
A sizeable number of women would not opt for the stay at home option if they had an alternative. Can women ever find the right balance between work and caring for children? I think not.(Arijit Sen/HT Photo)

Social media was all aflutter recently after Mira Rajput, the wife of actor Shahid Kapoor extolled the virtues of being a stay-at-home mother. She said that her child was not like a puppy that could be left at home and that she did not want to spend just one hour a day with her. What’s with all the canine analogies these days, first the PM says he feels pain when a puppy is run over and now we have the erudite Ms Rajput rabbiting on about puppies. But I digress.

Numerous women, armed with spiffing degrees have skewered Mira saying that her remarks come from a position of privilege, that she is dissing women who chose to have a career and leave their children in the care of others while they work. They argue that children of working mothers are proud of them, that the quality time spent with their offspring more than compensates for their absence. This argument is happening at the level of privilege on all sides. Women who can afford to be full time caregivers for their children and women who can afford full time caregivers for their children while they work.

But there are numerous women who have no choice but to be full time mothers or no choice but to work because their children would starve otherwise. So while we get our knickers in a twist about Mira Rajput and her detractors and supporters, let us spare a thought for these two categories of women who are somehow out of the loop of our discourse.

Crippled by illiteracy and lack of opportunity, many women are condemned to a life of child bearing and rearing because they have no skills to join the job market and even if they could, cannot afford the kind of care that they would like for their children. In the West, especially Scandinavia, state child care facilities ease the path for women who want to hold down jobs. Here crèches are few and far between.

According to the law, any workplace which has 50 or more workers should have provisions for a crèche. We know that this is not the norm barring a few exceptions. In fact, when a suggestion was once made in a former place of work of mine that a crèche might be set up, the reaction was that this would be used by women to malinger and waste time instead of focusing on their office work. The proposition that a happy mother would be a more productive person was not met with much approval.

According to the Factories Act 1848, any organisation with more than 30 women workers has to have facilities to look after children until the age of six. I haven’t heard of too many factories which have complied with this.

A sizeable number of women would not opt for the stay at home option if they had an alternative. Can women ever find the right balance between work and caring for children? I think not. Today, with the breakup of the nuclear family, women don’t get the sort of family support to look after children as they had once upon a time. I can vouch for this.

I once asked my mother if she could come and look after my children so I could go abroad. She refused and said she had her own work and that she had done her bit for child rearing with me and my sister. She would come to be with her grandchildren when it suited her and not me she said. Not quite the image of the sweet granny dispensing wisdom, cooking up a storm and knitting socks that I had hoped my mother would transform into.

For many other women, a day without work means a day without money to feed their children. They just have to take their courage into their hands and go out there hoping that no harm comes to their children. And often it does. Children are lured away from construction sites, from slums when their mothers are away at work, from other unorganised sector work sites which somehow are out of the protective embrace of the law.

These women need secure and safe facilities for their children. Since we are so focused on the economy, imagine how much more women could contribute to it if they could work with the surety that their children would be safe and cared for. I am not saying that all women should work, but I am sure most would like to have that choice if they had an enabling environment.

Oh and Mira Rajput, I wouldn’t be all that sanguine about leaving a little puppy at home alone.