A recent study done by Nielsen reveals that Indian women are the most stressed in the world today. An overwhelming 87% of Indian women said they felt stressed most of the time, and 82% had no time to relax.
I do not know if our women today experience more stress than women of the previous generation. Some of the changes during the past couple of decades could have logically reduced the stress on women; but, probably they did not.
Social Changes in the Country
India’s growth performance during the past 15 years has created significant social changes.
With good communication infrastructure and affordable services, people remain connected more economically and easily. This helps faster and easier dissemination of information leading to more informed decisions and more opportunities. Those who could not communicate for want of writing skills can now reach out with voice. We have a better connected society.
Market Economy and the opportunities in IT, ITES and BPO sectors have created a different work culture. More jobs have been created and more people earn their own livelihood. Financial dependency on male members by the women has reduced. We have fewer uncertainties about the future and people are less stingy about spending today.
Position of Women in Indian Society
There is a healthy change in the position of women in the society.
When I studies in school, we had 7 girls in my batch of 30 students in SSLC. None of the girls passed and no one minded; it was socially acceptable and expected. The girls mostly accepted the role of housewives and did not find a reason to take studies seriously. Also, girls from villages had no hope of higher studies as that would involve staying away from home. Studies of a girl child from a middle class family stopped when she could not be a day-scholar. Poor families either did not send their daughters to school or stopped after one or two years of schooling. Some parents considered it a waste to educate their daughters and some others were indifferent.
Today, girls outperform boys in studies in every field. There are more girl students than boys in many streams of studies. During my teaching in different institutes and corporate houses, I have seen the girls to be keener in studies than boys, indicating that they are not merely scoring well in examinations, but are keen to learn. It is very heartening.
Country’s workforce has more women. Comparatively more women work outside home. They have entered all kinds of services and are proving to be wonderful professionals.
As more women earn now, they have higher economic independence. When a lady earns, she is free to spend at least part of it – mostly all of it – the way she chooses. They invest wisely and reduce dependency on others. This has given them economic freedom and some accountability where they have to manage their own funds.
Higher economic independence has also given the women a better voice in family decisions. They would contribute to children’s education and family wealth-creation like building a new house or investments in a business. They are taking up new roles at home and in the society.
Many women have become great role models in different walks of life. Kiran Bedi, Medha Patkar, and Aruna Roy shined again during the intense India Against Corruption campaign. We have industry leaders like Kiran Majumdar and Indra Nooyi. Our women writers winning international recognitions like booker prize is only expected now. Younger generation women have women role models in every field. This makes a strong argument for them to reach out. We traditionally had more women in politics than most other countries.
Majority of school teachers are women. When I studied, our school had about 25 ‘masters’ and one teacher. Only a lady teacher was called a teacher then! The ratio is reversed now. In cities and villages alike, 80% to 90% of the teachers are women. Teachers influence the young minds significantly. Now it is easier for the girls to identify their icons among the teachers and bond with them than for the boys to find their icons and mentors. I think that higher ratio of women teachers have helped the girl students perform better in studies and later in life.
Like typical underdogs, having been suppressed for ages, the girls are taking the opportunity to prove their mettle when the context allows. They have used the opportunity to express their abilities best. The society is the gainer.
Indian Diaspora applies to both men and women. Large number of younger generation travel abroad for short and long duration. These opportunities lure the younger generation as it is opportunity to explore the world outside as well as earn more. The society enhances the charm of work abroad by looking at them with awe. Travel abroad is mostly possible in certain kind of jobs like IT professionals in MNCs.
Emancipation and empowerment should have reduced the stress on women. Then, why do we find the women more stressed than ever?
- When Aishwarya Rai won Miss World title 17 years ago, she became an idol for millions of teenagers. Many a “queens” from India were crowned in international pageants year after year for a while. Sale of beauty products increased. We do not hear much about Indian beauty queens now. Self grooming that makes us feel better and confident is good. If it is used to make us self-conscious, continuously compare with others and make us view our beauty in others’ eyes, it can become a stress too. Not just for beauty, if we seek our worth only through others’ eyes, we can’t find joy.
- TOI, 07 Sep 2011 states that Indian home makers are marketer’s dream, quoting a study by IMRB. Women are quoted to be self indulgent. This could bring the focus on self and less caring for others at home, work-place and society. Self-indulgence creates craving, which is an addiction and unhealthy.
- Kitchen has been a place for ladies to show that they care for the members of the family and the guests. In food, the change is taking place from home made to ready-to-eat. In India, market for packaged breakfast has doubled in 3 yeas to Rs. 400 crore. Is the lady slipping away from the role of being “Annapoorna?” and is it reducing the opportunities of being happy?
- Convenience and emotions seems to overtake good senses. Attitude to indulge, quoted in the study quoted by TOI
|I don’t mind giving packaged snacks to my kids since they like the taste||25%||77%|
|My children prefer fast food over home cooked food||18%||68%|
|I don’t mind eating food which may not be good for my health||19%||67%|
|Street food is more enjoyable than home cooked meals||15%||58%|
|I like fried food even though I know it is bad for my health||20%||62%|
The above do not indicate a healthy life-style and right attitude about eating habits.
Some reasons for the stress in Indian women are self-created. If we consider that the reasons are outside, we disown the responsibility to come of the situation and remain in self lamenting tar-pit.
If any member of a family is stressed, it will rub on the other members too. We want our women to be joyous, content, and stress-free.