To put it down bluntly, being a woman is difficult in all parts of the world. If you’re a working woman, then it’s a much rougher play -from fighting gender bias to brushing off gender stereotypes, to handling sexual harassment, to unequal pay- being a professional woman is no piece of cake. But to be a working woman in a developing country is even harder. Women in developing countries have to deal with skeletal maternity benefit systems, gender bias, lack of education and sexual harassment in the workplace.
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1. Lack of Education
Take the case of India – the world’s second largest country in terms of population and a developing nation. While major cities in India can compete with the world’s best cities in terms of gender equal job employment and pay, rural India is a much darker story. The gender bias is shocking and what is perhaps even more flabbergasting is that is seems to be perpetuated equally by men and women. The origin of the perception that women are inferior to men, -a perception that is widespread, and can be even found in the workplace- is difficult to pinpoint. Experts believe it to be the progeny of a rather unfortunate marriage between lack of education and poor economic development. In rural India, the man of the house is usually the sole bread winner, while women in the house are usually of no consequence.
From birth itself, women are denied education amongst other things and this in turn leads them to seek employment as unskilled workers. However not only is the pay bad in such workplaces, but most of these women also have to deal with cruel treatment both by their employers and members of their own family. And that’s not just the case in India, in many developing nations around the world, being born a woman means you are presented with far less opportunities than if you were born a man. Poverty-stricken classes of developing nations consider their sons to be breadwinners and their daughters to be an inconvenience. This leads to women being denied even the most basic of education, which leads to a higher level of illiteracy in women than in men. In turn, uneducated and illiterate women have to seek work as unskilled workers in workplaces which are basically slave factories. According to UNESCO, out of the 774 million or so adults worldwide who are unable to read, 493 million are women. Things are changing though with many forward-thinking governments of developing nations having launched initiatives that encourage the rural population to educate their girls in a bid to bolster socio-economic development.
2. Strong Gender Bias
When it comes to educating their daughters, the urban population doesn’t share their rural counterparts’ beliefs. It’s remarkable how different the mindset in urban areas is. It is believed that girls should be awarded the same education opportunities as their male counterparts. This alone opens a whole new window of opportunities for women. Despite all of this, the gender bias in the professional world is still rampant. It’s a shared belief across all industries that female employees are temporary, or short-term workers; this is so because a woman’s role is primarily seen as that of a homemaker, rather than a qualified professional. Since many companies do not view their female employees as long-term workers, there’s a considerable salary gap between female and male employees. So despite the fact that more and more women are joining the developing countries’ workforce, women are still being paid far less than their male colleagues and are often passed over for promotions and raises.
3. Women are Still Defined as Homemakers
As mentioned above, the role of a woman in developing nations still remains primarily that of a homemaker; be it in the eyes of her family, her employees or even sometimes, herself. So the endgame of being a woman in a developing country is to get married and raise a family. While many people are open to letting the women in their families work, for them her marriage is more important than her career. Another interesting aspect here is that despite financial freedom, a woman in a developing country remains largely answerable to her parents – mostly because many of these countries have a very strong patriarchal family system. This mindset is changing, but the change is still limited to urban areas of the countries.
For the average working girl in a developing nation, work is usually a way to fill in time until she gets married. After her marriage, her will to work is usually controlled, or at least influenced, to a large degree by her in-laws and her husband; free will is still a long distance away. Also, another factor that working women in developing countries need to consider is how many hours they’ll be outside their home. A woman from an orthodox family, for example, would perhaps prefer to be a teacher with limited work hours, as opposed to choosing to be a doctor which would mean long hours.
4. Lack of Maternity Benefits
Let’s say the woman, her family and even her husband’s family are forward thinkers and she doesn’t have to quit her job right after her wedding, although it doesn’t happen every day, it still happens. However this will probably change with motherhood, because most developing nations do not have a good maternity benefit system in place. Corporations usually adhere to the 90-day paid maternity leave, but smaller companies do not follow this practice, which in turn leads to many women quitting their jobs when they get pregnant.
5. Safety and Security at Work
While crimes against women are a global phenomenon – women in developing nations are easier targets. Women who work are even easier targets, as they need to commute to work. So while getting to work, or getting back from work, women in developing countries become victims of street harassment and molestation in overcrowded public transport. Many women are not independent enough to own or even drive their own vehicle. Even in companies that offer pick-and-drop facilities, the security isn’t tight enough to prevent crimes against women, since the drivers of such vehicles are not subjected to background checks. Another major concern is sexual harassment at work; apart from having to deal with possible problems arising while traveling to work, women in developing countries also face harassment at work. There’s little knowledge on what measures can be taken when a woman’s been harassed at work, while culprits are rarely taken to justice as there are few laws on the matter and they are not strict enough.
Another darker and more horrifying challenge for women is that, in some developing countries, there have been noted incidents against women who work. Certain religious sections perpetuate hate crimes against women trying to earn a living, as their belief system dictates that the place of a woman is behind her family.
Despite these challenges, it’s not all dark and dreary. Since most developing countries are on an economic roll, there are also many opportunities for women to shine through! It’s for us women to brush off the gender-stereotypes by being the best that we can, everywhere.