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November 01, 2018 Thursday 04:02:50 PM IST


Cover Story

The workplace has been witnessing transformation to accommodate more women. With more women joining the workforce, the traditional structure of families is undergoing changes. How will this affect the social fabric? What are the implications of the phenomenal silent revolution taking place out there for the individual, family and the society at large?  R.Ramabhadran Pillai  finds out in an interview with Dr. T.R.John, Consultant Psychiatrist and Chief of Medical Services, Aster Medcity, Kochi.

Dr. T.R.John: A Psychiatrist with more than 22 years of experience, Dr. T R John is an expert in management of behavioral and mental disorders in both adults and children. His areas of special interest include management of mood disorders, suicide prevention in people with high stress levels, women’s mental health, wellness psychiatry and psychiatric aspects of organ transplantation. Dr. T. R. John, the Chief of Medical Services of Aster Medcity, Kochi, had worked at various hospitals of the Indian Armed Forces across India. He has served as Associate Professor at the MOSC Medical College, Kolenchery, Post-graduate teacher in Psychiatry (Armed Forces as well as Kerala), Executive committee member of IMA Kochi and Ernakulam Psychiatric Society. He has also published several research articles.

? Is working women more prone to psychological disorders in comparison to home-makers? How do we approach the problem for arriving at a solution?

 Yes. Studies across the world, especially in developing countries, have shown that working women are more prone to psychological disorders. This is, in a way, surprising as working men are less prone to depression, anxiety, suicide and other psychological problems. Most working women do double job, that is, both as the homemaker and the professional worker. They have less control over salary and its utilization, have to juggle with urgent demands of home and work, and face workplace stressors such as employment not commensurate with educational qualifications, less satisfying work and gender discrimination. These could be contributing to the increased incidence of psychological problems among them. In the developed world, the psychological health of employed women is better.

? Employment of more women in various sectors has resulted in weakening of family bonds, affecting emotional security of children. How big is the issue? How can we tackle it.?

The issue is really big and serious. No one has started addressing it yet. The family bonds as it existed traditionally were built on a firm basement with the women taking up the homemaker role in an unpaid capacity which made them dependent on men for sustenance. Paid employment outside the home liberates the women financially but reduces the time available for maintaining family bonds and ensuring emotional security of children. Frankly speaking, I have no clear-cut answers for tackling the same. Ultimately, the society will have to consider valuing and monetarily compensating the woman for her job of nurturing children (eg. the suggestion of 50 per cent of men's pay). Alternatively, the society may have to take up the ‘nurturing job’.

?Divorce rates have been going up in Kerala in recent years. Is the rise of women in professional arena a key factor behind it? If so, how can we curb the situation? 

The role specialization (provider/nurturer) model predicts that when both enter labour force, the gains from marriage to both partners reduce. Hence women's employment could destabilize marriage intrinsically. A contrasting view is provided in the economic opportunity model which asserts that women's employment does not weaken marriage, but equips them with resources which could be used to leave unhappy marriages.

 The overall conclusion is that women's employment doesn't destabilize happy marriages, but increases risk of divorce in unhappy marriages. Kerala is no exception. Social action that sensitizes males about the changing roles in the family, which in turn will reduce the chances of an unhappy marriage, could be a solution. Addressing certain factors like better job flexibility for women in order to adjust work-family conflicts and better State-sponsored support services for working women (eg. excellent day care services) will reduce the adverse impact of employment of women in divorce rates.

?  Countries such as Japan where women constitute a major workforce witnessed rapid decrease in child birth. Is this phenomenon bound to appear in other countries including India in future, if more women focus on their careers? Won't this create an unhealthy trend in society?

 Of course. It will appear. The time available in a day for everybody remains the same. Childbirth brings with it, responsibilities that occupy a lot of time which can otherwise be utilized for career promotion activities.  Choice against childbirth may be unhealthy for the society, but beneficial to the individual woman in a monetized world. Since birth of children is a necessity for the society for its own survival, it will have to think of compensating the mothers. Measures such as providing fully paid maternity leave are right steps in this direction.

? The traditional family pattern, with the man at the helm of affairs, is gradually facing an erosion. Has this affected the mental health of the male? Is this problem bound to grow?

 Available information suggests that there is increased psychological distress among husbands of employed women. Disruption to the traditional sex-oriented roles and inability to adjust to the change may be major causes. Objective additional burdens associated with increased housework and childcare responsibilities may also play a part. Awareness and increased acceptance of the changed roles in family should reduce this distress. 

? What, in your opinion, could make an ideal family, given the fact that gender equality is gaining importance and is here to stay?

Yes. Quest for gender equality has crossed the Rubicon and will inevitably reach its final destination, that is, socio-cultural equality of sexes. We still are not sure what the institution of family will look like in that scenario, or what an ideal family will be, but it is definite that family as we know today will not exist.

 To make some educated guesses, the current role specialization in family will have to disappear. Husbands will have to take on equal nurturing role. In an ideal family, other than the function of child bearing, all other functions will have to be either shared or divided equally, based on individual ability of the partners, which will be different for various couples. The society will have to take on, or at least offer, quality support for some or most of the nurturing functions of a family. The society will have to make everyone better sensitive about gender equality from their formative years itself.

R .Ramabhadran Pillai

The writer is Editor of Pallikkutam. He can be reached at editor@rajagirimedia.com.

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