When I quit my full-time job, my then boss wanted to know why. I loved my job, I told her. It gave me a sense of identity and pride. But it also left me with feeling terribly guilty.

My girls were growing up, fast. Most days when I got home, I was just too wiped out for anything more than cursory conversations about brushing their teeth and finishing their homework. Tik tok, tik tok at the back of my head:

I will never get back this time with them again.

Resigning was privilege talking. My salary made a very satisfying thuck when it hit my bank, but none of us was going to starve without it.

I also had help at home. Wonderful, trust-worthy, loving that included a helper who had been with me since the birth of my first child as well as a father-in-law who was so appalled by my decision to quit that he promised to spend even more time with my daughters.

Finally, there was the knowledge that I could continue to write, that I’d have one foot in the door, and so, years before the pandemic made hybrid work a staple expression, I took the plunge.

Yes, there have been regrets, the brief meanderings down the what-if road, missing the camaraderie of the office, even the weak coffee at the morning news conference. But in the end I would do it again. It was worth it after all.

Falling off the employment map

Source: www.istockphoto.com

There is a mountain of data that demonstrates how mothers throughout the world struggle with full-time employment. Economists call this the “motherhood penalty”, this search for a sweet spot between the demands of being a mom and those of a professional career.

Despite a renewed post pandemic conversation on work-life balance, too many jobs continue to demand unreasonably long hours from women as well as men– think of law firms, production houses, hospitals. Work pressures remain, perhaps have even worsened as the boundaries between home and office blur and jobs are slashed across sectors.

Over half the women interviewed in Deloitte’s 2022 Women@Work report felt higher stress levels than a year ago, 46% felt burned out, one in three had taken time off from work due to mental health challenges and 48% reported poor or very poor work-life balance.

In 2017, I began working on a series that cut close to the bone: Why were Indian women quitting jobs in droves?

India’s female labour force participation was (and remains) in crisis. This was mystifying because women were quitting jobs at a time when the economy was growing, fertility was falling and educational attainment by girls and women at its highest ever.

Source: Image bazar

There is another mountain of data that looks at the way men and women spend their time to discover a yawning gap in housework, which obviously is unpaid. To put it another way, the more time women spent on housework, the less time they had to spend it on paid work.

Ironically, India’s most educated women were leaving jobs at the fastest rate. What the hell was going on? Clearly, when they no longer felt an economic compulsion to be in jobs, women, like me, felt it was ok to leave and spend more time with their families.

Not enough in the tank

Which brings us to Jacinda Ardern’s shock announcement to step down as New Zealand prime minister.

Watching her struggle with tears as she made her announcement was personal to me. This is Jacinda Awesome Ardern who took her recently born daughter to the United Nations; whose partner Clarke Gayford has been a stay-at-home dad; a woman who has skillfully put down a constant barrage of misogyny and whose leadership has inspired thousands of women and girls all over the world.

If she doesn’t have “enough in the tank”, who does?

When she gave birth during her first term in office, Ardern acknowledged the challenge but added, “I am confident with all of the support I’m very lucky to have, we will absolutely make it work.”

Now that her four-year-old begins her first year of school, comes the realization that her partner and daughter are “the ones that have sacrificed the most out of all of us”. She said she hadn’t formulated any future plans other than to spend more time with her family.

Women quitting jobs at the prime of their careers is an old story. To use another favourite term of economists, the “leaking pipeline” kicks in a few years down the career path at precisely the time when parents are growing older and children are reaching crucial school years.

The great mystery seems to be why men don’t face the same dilemma. Why aren’t men torn between careers and families? Could it be social conditioning over the centuries that men provide and women nurture (and by the way, I cannot count the number of men who write to me justifying a woman’s “real” job is taking care of her family)? Or is just the internalized guilt we feel (and if so, why don’t men seem to grapple with it?)

I don’t have an answer. I guess I’m just grateful that even in quitting, Ardern has shone a light on a problem that desperately needs attention.

(Women, I really want to hear your story of balancing work and family. Write to me at: namita.bhandare@gmail.com)

In numbers

Source: Theleaflet.com

All over India, 54.4% of Indian women aged 15-59 are primarily engaged in domestic labour. In Bihar, as many as 72.3% are engaged in such labour; the least is in Sikkim with 18.7%.

Source: Centre for Economic Data and Analysis, Ashoka University analysis of the 2020-21 Periodic Labour Force Survey

Seen and heard

“What I’m proudest of as a woman athlete, is to stand up for what’s right.”

Sania Mirza interviewed by Rohit Brijnath The Straits Times before her last career appearance at a Grand Slam.

Going places

Source: PTI

If parades are about sending a message, then women’s empowerment certainly took centre-stage at the 74th Republic Day parade. There was squadron leader Sindhu Reddy saluting smartly as she led the India Air Force’s marching contingent. Lieutenant commander Disha Amrith was at the head of the naval contingent. Three women officers were part of the army contingent, including lieutenant Chetana Sharma who led the Akash missile mechanised column. For the first time, women formed a part of the Border Security Force camel contingent.

Can’t make this s*** up

Gurmeet Singh Ram Rahim, a convicted rapist who also found guilty of conspiracy to murder, is out on his fourth parole. In 14 months.

The head of the Dera Sacha Sauda sect is serving a 20-year jail term–well, on and off–in Sunaira jail, Rohtak district, Haryana and celebrated the birthday of a former dera head by cutting a cake with a sword and a flourish. “I should cut at least five cakes,” he said. Part of the birthday celebrations also included a cleanliness drive that was attended by Krishan Lal Panwar, a BJP Rajya Sabha MP and Krishan Bedi, the political secretary to Haryana chief minister.

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A woman’s choice alone

Source: Shuttershock

In a strong statement recognising a woman’s right to live with dignity, Delhi high court judge Swarn Kanta Sharma said that a woman alone holds the right to make reproductive choices about her body. Refusing a woman the right to abortion denies her the right to live with dignity.

The court was ruling on a petition allowing a 14-year-old rape victim to terminate a 25-week pregnancy. The daughter of construction workers had lost crucial time in approaching the court through its legal services committee due to financial constraints.

“In the case of sexual assault, denying a woman right to say no to medical termination of pregnancy and fasten her with responsibility of motherhood would amount to denying her the human right to live with dignity,” the judge said.

Testing times for Karnataka’s girl students who wear hijab

Source: PTI

On Monday, a group of students from Karnataka approached the Supreme Court seeking a directive from it to government institutions to allow them to take their exams wearing the hijab (head scarf). Chief Justice DY Chandrachud said he would consider setting up a three-judge bench to take up the matter in view of a split verdict by the two judges of the previous bench. A new bench is still to be announced.

Ever since the Karnataka high court upheld the state government’s order on uniforms last year, women have been pulled out of state-run institutions, according to reports. Some have been admitted to privately-run colleges which are not bound by uniform rules but the exams, scheduled to begin in the first week of February, can be conducted only in government colleges.

Wrestlers reject probe panel

Source: ANI

India’s top wrestlers have rejected the five-member panel headed by former boxer MC Mary Kom, formed by the sports ministry to probe allegations of sexual harassment and financial impropriety against the Wrestling Federation of India and its president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh. “We were not even consulted before the formation of this committee,” tweeted Olympic medallists Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik and world championships medallist Vinesh Phogat.

…And the good news

Source: https://india.postsen.com/

Back in the 70s, Billie Jean King was famously told: “Nobody wants to pay to watch you birds playing.” To understand how far women’s sport has come since then, look at the money. India’s women cricket players made the BCCI richer by Rs 4,670 crore at the inaugural franchise ownership auction on Wednesday. Adani Sportline, the highest bidder, picked up the Ahmedabad team, one of five, for Rs 1,289 crore.

On the back of the Rs 951 crore capital infusion for media rights by Viacom 18, WPL is now the second most valued league after IPL.

Field notes

How to conduct a sex survey

The fourth British national survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles (Natsal), claimed to be one of the largest and most detailed scientific study of sexual behaviour in the world, is underway. Involving a sample size of 10,000 people aged between 16 and 59, the survey has been conducted every 10 years from the mid 1980s when the emerging HIV epidemic led to the need for reliable information on the sexual behaviour and attitudes of people living in Britain at the time. Results of this round will only be out in 2025.

With 607 questions that take about an hour to answer, how do you keep that famous British upper lip when asking people about their most intimate details? The Economist has a list: Avoid leading questions, junk judgmental words like “adultery”, and keep a poker face while noting down responses.

Read more in The Economist here.


Foreign Policy reports on the gender hunger gap and how, under climate change, women will increasingly be forced to eat less than men. Read more here.

The Oscar nominations announced on Tuesday have led to jubilation around the world, including in India where three films have made the cut. Excluded from the celebrations are Black women who are increasingly vocal about the academy’s diversity problem. Read more here and here.

In Scotland, a transgender woman found guilty of raping two women before she transitioned was lodged in a female prison, leading to a brouhaha. BBC reports that she has since been moved to a male prison.

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That’s it for this week. Do you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you’d like to share? Write to me at: namita.bhandare@gmail.com

Is the Constitution a feminist document?

Image source: Google

Almost 100 years ago, Sarojini Naidu, one of the 15 women members of the Indian Constituent Assembly and a leading figure of the freedom struggle, asserted she was not a feminist. According to her, to be a feminist is to acknowledge that one is repressed. Hers was a particularly formal and somewhat limited view of equality.

More recently, speaking at the LM Singhvi memorial lecture, Chief Justice Dhananjay Chandrachud called the Constitution a feminist document. Given these two divergent views, one of a sitting Supreme Court judge, and another of a woman constitution-maker, does it matter whether the Indian Constitution is feminist or not?

It does. Because constitutions impact women. Even when they appear neutral, they tend to have a distinct impact on the lives of women and other genders for generations to come. It, thus, becomes relevant to ask what constitutions do for women as well as what women want constitutions to do for them–not merely upper caste women but all women.

This January 26, perhaps a feminist engagement is warranted with our Constitution. Constitutions are the highest in the legal structure of a nation that set the tone for all legislation. No legislature can violate the Constitution without judicial challenge. And the Indian Constitution is particularly promising for its guarantee of social justice.

What would a feminist constitution look like?

The chief justice gave two reasons for why he considers our Constitution to be a feminist document. First, he said, “The introduction of universal adult franchise was truly a revolutionary act at a time when such a right had only recently been extended to women, people of colour, and the working class in supposedly mature western democracies.” This, he added, was the “boldest move”.

Second, he said, “feminism is lot about disruption of social hierarchies and that is what the Constitution intends to do.”

He is right. The Indian Constitution is a potentially progressive document. It was written with substantial equality provisions with an affirmative action programme for multiple marginalized group.

It envisioned the State’s role in ensuring equal access to wealth, education and health care through the directive principles of state policy. It was written under the chairpersonship of Dr BR Ambedkar who challenged the long-standing caste practices of Indian society through the guarantee of equality, non-discrimination, and positive state duties. And remarkably, the Constituent Assembly had 15 women-constitution makers.

[Who were these 15 remarkable women? Read here.]

Declaring a constitution feminist is not a simple task

We can have a list of what a feminist constitution is not, but we cannot perhaps have one exhaustive answer of what a feminist constitution is.

Constitutional law scholar Shreya Atrey points out that by declaring the Constitution as feminist, we assume that the Constitution alone, without anything further, is feminist. The assertion, then, becomes that simply by applying the Constitution, we can be feminist.

But the story of the feminist movement in India is much more complex than that. The Indian feminist movement for long operated within formal and uniform understanding of equality, ignoring the intersectional disadvantage of Dalit, Muslim and other marginalized women. Merely declaring it to be feminist without self-critique and self-reflection is insufficient.

Universal adult franchise

For the longest time, the right to vote was subject to literacy levels and property ownership during the freedom struggle. This disproportionately impacted women. According to Census 1941, the female literacy rate for undivided India was 7.3% as opposed to the literacy rate of 24.9% amongst men.

Image source: AP

The All India Women’s Conference in its eighteenth session expressed particular concerns about the restrictions on voting rights and declared the right to vote without restrictions as a basic civic right of women.

On the other hand, multiple members in the Constituent Assembly expressed anxieties about granting universal suffrage on grounds of literacy levels and competence. Post-independence, several states have passed laws that restrict the political participation of women through similar conditions (and anxieties) that disproportionately harm women: The number of children they have, educational standards, toilets in houses, etc.

The lesson of the universal adult franchise story is that a mere celebratory account of things hides much more than it tells.

Declaring a constitution feminist may be a powerful statement, but feminism ultimately has to be practiced rather than being declared, points out Atrey. For instance, the recent judgment on hijab and its blanket assertion of “uniform” and “unity” does not take into account how the ban actually has worked out. Merely because the ban looks “neutral” on the face of it, does not mean that it is actually applied as such. Muslim women have been specifically targeted. They have been denied education, with many dropping out altogether. Many could not write their board exams, which ultimately ensures admissions into colleges.

The feminist potential of the Indian Constitution has to be discovered, defined, and exercised every day.


  • Shreya Atrey, ‘Feminist Constitutionalism: Mapping a Discourse in Contestation’ (2022) 20(2) ICON 611-641
  • Helen Irving, Gender and the Constitution (CUP 2008)
  • Vicki C Jackson, ‘Feminisms and Constitutions’ in Kim Rubenstein & Katherine G. Young (eds.), The Public Law of Gender: From the Local to the Global (CUP 2016)
  • Achyut Chetan, Founding Mothers of the Indian Republic: Gender Politics of the Framing of the Indian Constitution (CUP 2022)
  • Udit Bhatia, ‘Precautions in a Democratic Experiment The Nexus between Political Power and Competence’ in Jon Elster, Roberto Gargarella, Vatsal Naresh and Bjørn Erik Rasch (eds.), Constituent Assemblies (CUP 2018)

Surbhi Karwa is a BCL (Distinction) graduate from the University of Oxford who wrote her LLM thesis on feminist constitutionalism and the Indian constitution-making process.

Shock and awe

Jacinda Ardern bows out

Image source: YouTube ScreenGrab

The world’s youngest woman head of government when she was elected New Zealand’s prime minister in 2017 announced on Thursday that she no longer has “enough in the tank” to continue in office. (Watch Ardern’s announcement to step down here.)

“I had hoped that I would find what I needed to carry on… unfortunately, I haven’t, and I would be doing a disservice to New Zealand to continue,” a tearful Jacinda Arden told her Labour Party caucus before the upcoming national elections in October. Ardern’s Labour Party is yet to announce her replacement.

Whoever it is, will have big shoes to fill.

Ardern, a former DJ who joined the Labour Party at 18, has won international acclaim through her politics of empathy and kindness under a barrage of near constant misogyny.

Her statement about not having “enough in the tank” finds resonance with millions of women around the world who, despite supportive partners, struggle to find that sweet spot between parenting young children and their professional lives. Hybrid work has made it a smidge easier to juggle but some jobs still demand inordinate hours leaving many women with empty tanks, forced to choose. Many, particularly those with privilege, simply opt out of paid work in what economists call the “motherhood penalty.”

While Ardern said she had no plans on what she’ll be doing next, she is looking forward to more time with her family: “They’re the ones that have sacrificed the most,” she said.

In numbers

The highest number of C-section deliveries in private health facilities in 2021-22 was in the Andaman and Nicobar islands with 95.56%, followed by Tripura with 93.03%. The India average for such deliveries was 38% in private facilities, compared to 15% in public hospitals.

Source: The New Indian Express

Can’t make this s*** up

In November, a spot check of the schoolbags of class 10 students by some schools in Bengaluru unearthed a cache of cash, mobiles and, gasp, condoms.

This week, the state’s drug control department issued a circular to all pharmacies across the state asking them to ‘counsel’ minors seeking to buy condoms and contraceptives.

Stories you might have missed

Indian wrestling’s MeToo moment

Image source: PTI

India’s top wrestlers called off their unprecedented protest late on Friday night after an assurance from Union sports minister Anurag Thakur that Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) chief Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, whom they have accused of sexual harassment and mental torture, will step aside for four weeks while the charges are investigated.

“We have every proof,” wrestler Vinesh Phogat, two-time world championship medallist, said. “I am getting calls from girls from as far as Kerala and Maharashtra who have been harassed. This is a fight for respect.”

The charges by the wrestlers point to a larger malaise of lop-sided power equations between athletes and sports federations packed with male politicians. Earlier this month, a junior athletics coach levelled charges of harassment against Haryana sports minister Sandeep Singh who stepped down after a police complaint was filed against him. He, however, retains the printing and stationery portfolio.

Collegium roots for India’s first openly gay judge

Image source: PTI

The Supreme Court collegium has dug its heels in on its decision to appoint senior advocate Saurabh Kirpal as a judge of the Delhi high court. Kirpal’s name was first recommended for elevation in November 2021 but was rejected by the Centre for his openly gay relationship of 21 years with a Swiss partner.

In a strong response dated January 18 signed by justices DY Chandrachud, Sanjay Kishan Kaul and KM Joseph, the collegium has dismissed the Centre’s objections saying “many persons in high positions…have had spouses who are foreign nationals.” It goes on to praising Kirpal for being open about his sexual orientation and says his appointment would add “inclusion and diversity” to the bench.

She heads the Delhi Commission of Women and faces harassment on the street

Image Source: ANI

Being the head of the Delhi Commission for Women is no guarantee of safety on the streets of the capital. On Thursday, Swati Maliwal complained that a car had dragged her for up to 15 metres after its driver made lewd gestures at her near the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Maliwal had, ironically, been assessing women’s safety when the incident took place. One person has been arrested.

…And the good news

The Kerala government will be granting menstrual leave to women students in all state universities that come under the department of higher education, announced higher education minister R Bindu. “Let the girls relax during difficult days,” she said. Yes, absolutely.


Photo credits: Wakil Kohsark/AFP

In Afghanistan, Al Jazeera reports on the killing of a former Afghan female legislator along with her bodyguard at her home in Kabul. Mursal Nabizada had been a member of Parliament in the former and was among the few female parliamentarians who stayed on in Kabul after the Taliban takeover in August 2021.

In somewhat brighter news from the country, at least three international aid agencies have resumed partial life-saving work after assurances from the Taliban that women can continue to work in the health sector.

In the UK, prime minister Rishi Sunak said he will block a Scottish bill that allows trans people to self-identify without being medically diagnosed. Passed in December, the bill makes it easier for people to change their legal gender. BBC reports that Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has called the move a “full frontal attack” and has vowed to oppose it.

In Sierra Leone, a new law to improve women’s rights earmarks 30% of government and private sector jobs for women, reports BBC. Other benefits include 14 week maternity leave, equal access to bank credit and training opportunities and, crucially, repercussions, including fines and jail time, for employers who don’t stick to the new gender ratio.

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That’s it for this week. Do you have a tip or information on gender-related developments that you’d like to share? Write to me at: namita.bhandare@gmail.com.

A mother’s courageous fight against the system

Trial by Fire quietly unpeels the dignity and grit of families who should never have had to be so brave but were

In 2010, Neelam met with the law commission asking for a separate law for man-made disasters that enhanced jail time from the current two years. A report was prepared in 2012. Then, nothing even as other disasters raged: Kumbakonam school, Victoria Park, AMRI hospital, Sum hospital. (HT PHOTO)

A mother’s simple question — how her children died — becomes a 26-year-long search for justice. It was clear to Neelam Krishnamoorthy soon after the June 1997 Uphaar Cinema fire took the life of her two children, Unnati (17) and Ujjwal (13), along with that of 57 others, that this disaster was avoidable. If the doors of the theatre had not been locked; if the public announcement system worked; if the emergency lights functioned; if the gangways hadn’t been blocked by extra seats, including a private box for the owners, Gopal and Sushil Ansal; if the manager had, instead of moving cash and cars, alerted the fire service earlier. The list is long and damning.