South Asian Insider
Five Reasons for Women to Earn
In the 1970s, when I was growing up as a teenager in South India, earning for one’s livelihood was not a goal for girls and women of the middle class, not as much as it was for boys and men. While women were expected to get educated, the final objective was to get married, raise children, and be an amenable member of the husband’s family. Based on the affordability, women were also taught some form of fine arts – music, dance, painting, etc. but the education and arts were for the pride and joy of the family. If at all a woman earned outside of home, it was usually considered a hobby or a pastime, until she got married, at which point the husband and his family decided if it should continue or not. Women who were into professions were not many.
Today, we see and read about some of us Indian women shining as political leaders, reaching the highest rungs of the corporate ladder, and serving the world via our chosen professions. There are so many more choices open to us. And yet, the unspoken and implicit societal expectations of us are still that earning is a nice choice to have for women and not a primary goal or standard. Parents usually worry that their daughters are not married or don’t have children. But they seldom fret that their girls are not financially independent adults. Parents are frequently concerned that their daughters want to study more, because finding equally matched spouses would be so much more difficult then. But they are often not bothered if the daughters show no interest in finding jobs and continue to live on their parents’ funds. Many husbands expect, accept and prefer that their wives stay at home as homemakers rather than carry on with their jobs outside of home.
Having been a single mom since my early thirties and now as a life coach to women in my sixties, my belief is that girls and women should have the aim of earning for themselves, for the following reasons:
1.Exercising our choices: Earning and financial independence gives us the choice of running our lives and our families in the manner we think fit. When we have to look at others for finance, it can constrain us to options that have to meet with the financiers’ approval, in small or larger things.
2.Assuming leadership during crises: The habit and practice of earning also gives us the confidence of facing crises. E.g. when parents or partners are unavailable due to death, disability, divorce, etc., we are able to take over the role of financial provider with greater mental comfort. We don’t need to succumb to becoming dependents. If we had to start earning late in life, with no previous experience of being the breadwinner, it could be traumatic.
3.Serving and connecting with the world: When earning comes in the form of a career or profession, we can serve the world not just for our own family but also the world. Many of us today choose to study and get qualified in specialized knowledge and skills that gives us an income by serving our clients and field of expertise.
4.Living as an adult in every way: Becoming an adult is about being physically independent, emotionally mature and financially self-sufficient. As normal adults we are required to be able to physically take care of ourselves. We are expected to make decisions, deal with our emotions when things don’t go the way we want, and learn from our experiences. So why is earning enough to take care of our needs not considered necessary for us? Financial freedom is an important qualification for functioning as an adult. And this is not for men alone. It is for every human being, male or female. Earning is every adult man and woman’s fundamental right and responsibility.
5.Creating a self-identity: Last, but not the least, contributing financially to our own selves and to the family gives us a strong self-image as well as an identity that goes beyond being daughters, sisters, wives and mothers. We are entitled to this as much as men assume theirs.
In spite of the above important reasons to earn and live financially independent, our familial systems are not always kind to women being employed external to the home. Even for the earners among us, earning on a continuous basis is not easy. When we get married, more often than not, it is we who have to give up on our jobs to move to a new city where the husband lives and find another one. Since we are blessed with the responsibility of bearing children, we need the time and break to achieve that with comfort. Frequently the mother does the caring for children, so the earning aspect may have to be deprioritized for a period till the children are away at school or for our children’s physical and emotional well-being. These are just a couple of examples of the interruptions we face as earners.
How can we change this situation for our girls and ourselves? How can we normalize earning and yet be there for our families? Watch out for my next blogs for more on the challenges we face and how we can get them addressed.
By Janaki Chakravarthy
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