Let’s not settle for less!

Women now outnumber their male counterparts in higher education of the country. While the labor force participation still remains abysmal, it has improved during the last two decades. As more and more women join the workforce, it is important to understand the gender dynamics at work place. As a professional with 10 years’ experience of working in the corporate, public and international development sectors, I have a number of learnings and observations to share on this. I hope that some of these will find resonance with my fellow women co-workers, and would invite reflection from our male counterparts as well. It is only by sharing our experiences and calling out adverse practices that we can have any hope of improving the state of affairs.  

First, it is important to note that the work environment in any country is largely shaped by the societal norms, values and systems within which it operates. A patriarchal society affects women in their personal and professional lives by limiting opportunities for education and career advancement, limiting control over their own bodies and reproductive rights, generating societal pressure to conform to traditional gender roles and stereotypes, increasing likelihood of experiencing gender-based violence and discrimination, ensuring greater economic dependence on men, limiting freedom of movement and self-expression and assuring lack of representation in leadership positions. These and many other factors lead to feelings of oppression, low self-esteem, and lack of agency and autonomy for women.

In the last ten years, I have witnessed first hand, through my and many of my colleagues’ experiences, how challenges posed by regressive societal values affect professional women at their work place. In short, the whole social setup, including the work environment provides men significant leverage to assert power and control over women. The manifestations of this deeply rooted male dominance are multi-dimensional and widespread. These may range from threats and other forms of harassment, to bosses expecting favours in exchange for opportunities, and from partners asserting control over women's actions and choices. Our economic and social dependence gives them the satisfaction of being superior which feeds an underlying fragile male ego.  

I have seen my fellow women colleagues treated in a variety of ways by their male counterparts depending on their specific insecurities and personality. They try to undermine our authority and credibility by constantly questioning our decisions or abilities, even when we have proven ourself to be competent and capable. They try to downplay our contributions or ideas in meetings or discussions, even if they are valuable and relevant. At times they are overly critical or negative, and find small mistakes and blow these out of proportion to make us feel bad or inadequate. They may try to control our actions or decisions, even in the workplace, by being possessive or controlling in their interactions or they may try to compete in the workplace, even when it's not necessary, in order to assert their dominance and make us feel inferior.

They also feel threatened by a woman partner or colleague who is strong, self-sufficient, and capable, as it challenges their traditional notions of masculinity and dominance. They feel the need to exert their dominance and control over women to compensate for their own insecurities. They judge and question us about our choices and decisions. They question our morality as a way to undermine our credibility and authority. They use moral judgments as a way to control and manipulate, making us doubt our own actions and decisions. For example, they may question our loyalty if we choose to spend time with friends or pursue our own interests. They may also judge us for our choices, such as our dressing or our career decisions, as a way to assert control and make us feel guilty or ashamed of our actions. They may also use morality as a tool to justify their own behavior, for example, by claiming that their possessiveness or controlling behavior is for our own good or that they are only trying to protect us.

It's important to remember that morality is a subjective concept and one person's morality may be different from another's. It's important to trust ourselves and our own moral compass, and not let anyone else's judgment or criticism affect our self-worth or our actions. It's important to recognize these behavior and set boundaries, communicate our needs and expectations, and always stand up for ourselves.

Our independence does not diminish our integrity, morals, or loyalty. It does not make us less of a person or a woman. It simply means that we are strong, capable, and self-sufficient. We are not afraid to stand up for ourselves and make our own decisions. We are not afraid to challenge the status quo and break free from societal expectations.

Our independence is a powerful tool that allows us to live our lives on our own terms. It gives us the freedom to pursue our passions, dreams, and aspirations without anyone else's permission. It empowers us to be the best version of ourselves and to make a positive impact on the world. So, to those who fear our independence, we say this: we will not be silenced, we will not be held back, and we will not be defined by anyone else's standards. We are strong, independent women, and we will not be denied our right to live our lives to the fullest.

There is a very thin line between care and control, between mentorship and mastery, between possessiveness and imperiousness. We must learn to identify and call out these behaviors when they occur and set clear boundaries for how we expect to be treated. We should not compromise our own autonomy and self-worth for the sake of pleasing others or maintaining a relationship.

Ultimately, it is essential that we work together to break the cycle of control and oppression at work place, and to create a society where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their gender, race, or ethnicity. We must support and empower one another as women. We should uplift and encourage each other in our pursuits, rather than tearing each other down. By working together and building each other up, we can break the cycle of fear and oppression that has been imposed on us for far too long.

Independence is a fundamental right that should be respected and protected. Together, we can break the chains of oppression and pave the way for a brighter, more inclusive future for all women.

It's important to surround ourselves with people who uplift and support us, rather than those who try to control or manipulate us. This means choosing friends, coworkers, and partners who respect our autonomy and support our goals and aspirations. Therefore, I encourage you to choose your circles wisely, choose our partners wisely. Let’s not let anyone question our integrity. Let’s get back the control, make our own choices and never settle for less.

Amna Kayani

The author is a development sector professional with experience in human rights and gender justice.

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