Women’s Life as Civil Servants: IPS Officer Shraddha Pandey Writes

In a heartening development for the country, women have once again emerged as the top performers in the UPSC Civil Services Examination this year. Out of a total of 933 successful candidates, 320 are women, marking the highest percentage of female entrants into the civil service in any given year. While this achievement is cause for celebration, it is important to acknowledge that the number still falls short of reflecting the proportion of women in the overall population.

As a society, we have long encouraged women to pursue education, financial security, and independence. We strive for gender equality in the workplace, yet we continue to face challenges in realizing this goal. The reality is that we have not been successful in molding women who embody these ideals.

Achieving equality at home is an even more complex issue. While it may be true that in some households, women are hired to perform traditionally female tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and laundry, the mental burden associated with these responsibilities persists. Decisions regarding meal planning, grocery shopping, and child vaccinations often fall on women’s shoulders, even during important work meetings. It is unlikely that many male officers have experienced such interruptions.

It is important to note that the person making these calls is not to blame. For them, the kitchen is their workplace, and their role is to provide nutritious meals. Naturally, they seek assistance on matters they perceive as important. However, it would be disingenuous to claim that managing the kitchen, caring for children, and working are not overwhelming tasks. It is crucial that we strive for a more equitable distribution of these responsibilities in the future.

Interestingly, many men who seek strong, independent women as partners often fail to recognize their capabilities or independence when it comes to making personal decisions. This duality can be extremely confusing for women. They may hold leadership positions at work, but once they step into their homes, they are expected not to disrupt the delicate balance of power. In this context, men assume the leadership role and expect obedience and discipline. Senior women in the family often reminisce about a time when women unquestioningly obeyed men and maintained a disciplined silence at home. However, times have changed.

For both men and women entering the civil service, there are several considerations to bear in mind. Gentleness should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness. It is not necessary to assert dominance to gain recognition in one’s profession. Instead, one should focus on excelling in their role and remain humble enough to seek knowledge when faced with uncertainty. The subordinates they lead possess a wealth of experience. Embracing one’s gentleness, especially for women who naturally tend to be calm and kind, should be worn as a badge of honor. There is no need for aggression or condescension to carve out a space in the workplace.

Some time ago, a popular expression encapsulated the expectations placed on women: they are supposed to work outside the home as if they had no children and be mothers as if they had no work inside the home. Undoubtedly, work is a form of worship, but the truth is that the only people who will remember the overtime you put in are your children.

Personally, I owe everything to my profession, and I would never dream of reducing my workload. Simultaneously, there is nothing I love more than my child. Striking a balance between the two requires careful navigation. It is essential to establish clear expectations and secure the cooperation of one’s partner and family in raising the child. Setting aside dedicated time each week to spend with your child is crucial. A harmonious home environment ultimately contributes to one’s effectiveness as an officer.

Maternity leave should not be equated with a vacation nor should it disqualify women from re-entering the workforce. Throughout history, the possibility of future pregnancies has limited women’s career options. Even women themselves often feel guilty when they have to inform authorities about their pregnancy.

Consider the total fertility rate of the country, which stands at 2.0 (including both urban and rural populations). Therefore, a working woman is likely to experience a maximum of two pregnancies throughout her entire career. Our systems and institutions are undoubtedly robust enough to accommodate this significant life event and manage the short absences of employees. If one believes that pregnancy could hinder their career progression, alternatives such as study leave, temporary assignments in unrelated departments, or even accidents can be considered. The anxieties surrounding pregnancy and its impact on women’s careers are outdated notions that need to be eradicated. Women deserve support and opportunities for growth during this critical phase of their lives. Giving birth to a child is not only the arrival of a new life but also the rebirth of a woman.

With an increasing number of women joining the civil services, there is hope that we can utilize our “soft power” to lead the country more effectively. It is time to shed outdated notions, create a more egalitarian environment at home and in society, and make pregnancy and childbirth a happier and less stressful experience.