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Women & Economy

‘More Indian Working Women Aborting Motherhood’

NEW DELHI, May 28 2012 (IPS) - A young professional in India’s burgeoning IT hub Gurgaon, a major satellite city of national capital New Delhi, Manideepa Moitra works as a software content writer not just to make a living but to secure a career in the demanding sector that catapulted India on the global outsourcing  industry map.


Manideepa, 28, who got married early this year, says she has no plans to conceive in the foreseeable future.


“Parenthood is not in our scheme of things now and we cannot even say when is a suitable time to start a family. It is simply because I am busy with my career, and there is no support system here after we relocated from Kolkata, leaving our parents there,” says Manideepa.


“It is a conscious choice to give more priority to our career now, and my husband agrees that we will not have a child in the coming years.”


It is becoming common in India for urban women to focus on their career first, according to a survey released earlier this month by India’s leading industry body, the Associated Chambers of Commerce (ASSOCHAM).


The ASSOCHAM Social Development Foundation (ASDF) carried out a random survey of about 1,200 married, young full-time working women without children and about 800 stay-at-home mothers in the 24-30 age group years in cities.


It found that more than half (650) of married, young working women said they have shelved plans to start a family. They said career advancement and higher education is their priority, and they cannot sacrifice this to raise kids.


“Ambitious working women in India are not willing to give up their career for the sake of family as they are apprehensive about dealing with stress and emotional distress associated with issues of work/life balance,” says D.S. Rawat, secretary general of ASSOCHAM.


The findings about urban women professionals are significant in a country where the average childbearing age for women is very low in rural areas, and the maternal mortality rate is still a high 212 per 100,000 births, according to the Registrar General of India.


According to Dr Ranjana Kumari, Director of New Delhi-based Centre For Social Research, there is a perceptible shift in the approach to childbirth in urban areas, and many metropolitan women are choosing to delay both marriage and childbirth.


“There are a range of external conditions that enable women to make the choice to delay childbirth. These include high education levels, support from their family and community, good and secure employment, and comfortable living conditions,” she tells IPS.


“Priorities are definitely changing for urban women. As women become higher educated and more economically independent and secure, they gain more self-confidence and dignity, and are more empowered to make life decisions including choosing when and if to marry and have children.”


Of the women interviewed in the ASSOCHAM report, about 10 percent said they work to lead a better lifestyle and need to accumulate enough wealth before they start a family and cope with the rising costs of childcare. About 20 percent of the women surveyed said they and their husbands had taken the decision mutually.


Young professionals like Manideepa Moitra say motherhood is an impediment on the career path.“If I take a break from career for two three years, it is very difficult to come back and have the same position.”


However, some women studies groups and experts are not willing to draw any broad conclusion from such studies.


“Having a child, when to have one and when not to have one is and should be a woman’s right, in consultation with her partner at best, but, this in fact is seldom the case in countries like India where women’s ability to exercise choice in decision-making remains restricted, and there are enough studies to show that,” Dr. Indu Agnihotri, Director of New Delhi-based Centre for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), tells IPS.


“Any such report has to be seen in the context of hard data and facts. The work participation rate for women in India is very low and even more so for urban India,” she says.


Dr Agnihotri says that the last round of National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) data shows that the proportion of women workers nationally is on average as low as 25 percent. NSSO is an organisation in the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation of the Indian government.


But, says Dr Agnihotri, “deeper analysis undertaken by my colleagues in the CWDS showed that actually only 15 percent of women were in paid work. The work participation rate for women in national capital Delhi for the year 2007-8 stood at 7.1 percent in the age group of 15 and above.


“So the real issue is unemployment, unavailability of work and loss of existing work, since I think in the last round of recession some 27 million women lost their jobs but there is no discussion on that.”


According to CWDS, the story of India’s growth is one of jobless growth along with high levels of poverty where women are disproportionately high in numbers among the poor, and in the most low end and insecure jobs, mostly in the informal sector. She says they have poor wage rates and little bargaining position.


According to her, given the few jobs that women have even at the level of those surveyed, and the insecurity prevailing, the private sector largely follows an unstated policy of sacking a woman employee when informed of a pregnancy, and maternity leave is almost never granted in the climate of hire and fire.

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