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A Juggler’s Feat

I look at women we work with and realise that the most important change needs to be within us

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I was six months’ pregnant and returning home from a trip to Mumbai. The night before, I had been restless, wondering whether I should take a break from my career or spend all my time being a mother. It was unsettling to think that I would not be financially independent and my husband would need to take on the entire financial responsibility of the family. While the idea of being a fulltime mom had appeal, I was somehow unsure about being without a purpose of my own.

At the airport, while standing in line for something to eat, I couldn’t help but observe a lady with her two sons. I sat down next to her and we smiled politely at each other. I then unexpectedly found myself opening up to a complete stranger. “My name is Mallika and I run an NGO called, Parinaam Foundation. I have been contemplating on whether I should give up my job and devote my time to my child, or continue to work?” I confided in her.

She did not seem fazed by the question. She looked me straight in the eye and replied, “Do not give up your work. I have been a full-time mother for seven years and my kids don’t need me so much anymore. I find myself wanting to go back to my job, but am helpless and don’t know how. It’s been too long. You also want to be financially independent. It is very important.” She then spoke to me for an hour about her experience and allayed my fears.

It is not that women do not have financial capabilities. We are masters at spending and saving money. We do it every day with the running of our family and the house. It is more about the fact that a woman in India would usually have to give up her job when married and with child and therefore, she would not be earning.

To help women get back to work, if that’s what they want, families must stop being so nuclear, companies need to provide facilities such as Day Care centres, and most importantly, our partners need to take on a fair share of the responsibility to bring up the children and manage the home.

I am lucky. My husband has been reliable and supportive and unsurprisingly, he is enjoying it (probably very much, just as I’m enjoying taking on some of the financial burden). In our office, we have a beautiful creche and I get to see my son whenever I want to. I could feed him till he turned one, without turning to the bottle. It’s hard. I feel tired most days. Juggling schedules and tasks is not easy. But at the end of the day, I feel invigorated and my sense of independence keeps me strong.

Our NGO, Parinaam Foundation, runs one of the biggest financial literacy programmes in India. We have educated more than 4,80,000 low-income women (housemaids, garment factory workers, vegetable vendors) on how to manage their finances and have opened over 1,40,000 bank accounts across India. What we have learned from them is immense. They are uneducated, most often don’t have supportive husbands, have no formal financial institution to keep their money safe and are working hard at jobs and long hours with not enough earnings. Despite these odds, they are able to look after their entire families. I do believe our current environment needs to change, for women to become financially capable. I look at the women we work with and realise that the most important change needs to be within us. I go back to what that wonderful mother told me at the airport. “If you want something bad enough, you will find a way to get it. There are plenty of options that will help you look after your child while you continue to work,” she had said, “You just have to believe and make it happen.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Mallika Ghosh

The author is executive director of Parinaam Foundation. She developed the financial literacy programme, Diksha, which has been implemented in 20 States

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