For years, night shifts at work have been the norm in India’s Silicon Valley, thanks to the different time zones that the techies here must traverse to liaise with clients and colleagues in the West. A good section of these IT employees in Bengaluru are women.
Earlier this week, however, it dawned upon the lawmakers of Karnataka, of which Bengaluru’s the capital, that night shifts don’t suit female employees after all. For the greater good of women, and of course the society, the city’s tech and biotech companies must assign overnight work only to male employees, a panel of the state’s legislators recommended.
The suggestion, ostensibly to ensure women’s safety, reeked of an age-old and spectacularly regressive idea about a woman’s place in Indian society.
“A woman has a greater social responsibility than everyone else. She is going to groom the next generation and has maternal responsibilities. If a woman is working in the night, it could result in the neglect of the child as the mother and the child can’t meet,” NA Haris, chairman of the committee on women and child welfare, told NDTV.
Anticipating criticism, Haris couched his stance in defensive terms, saying that while men could help their wives at home, ultimately women have a larger social responsibility. “As men, we have more responsibility towards the safety of women. This is not an issue of old-fashioned, new fashioned,” he said.
While safety has always been an issue, with a number of reports of female employees being assaulted at night, such reasoning does way more harm than good. It places a punishing burden on the women instead of solving the root of the problem.
Bengaluru has more female engineers than anywhere else in the country, accounting for a little over 30% of the city’s engineer population, according to the 2011 census. A ban on night shifts would be a serious obstacle to their careers, adding to the other difficulties that hinder women from rising to top.
Coming soon after the expanded provision for maternity leave, which itself has prompted employers to think twice about hiring women, suggestions to keep female employees out of night shifts indicate a hardening of that glass ceiling.