How a comedian and filmmaker are asking the right questions to women from different fields
Since 2005, the percentage of Indian women in paid work has dropped from 35 percent to less than 24 percent, but no one is talking about the reasons.
That’s why the makers of the Women in Labour podcast decided to talk about it.
A 20-episode podcast hosted by comedian Aditi Mittal and filmmaker Christina MacGillivray blends witty provocation with a thoughtful line-up of speakers that includes journalists, filmmakers, IAS officers, social scientists, economists, cricket presenters, policy influencers, entrepreneurs, and opinion-makers.
Each episode features a trailblazer in her own right - compelling women, off-beat and trailblazing in their approach to what they do - to share anecdotes and expert insights.
A comedic take on a serious issue, Women In Labour explores a veritable feast of topics related to women, work, family, power, and everything in between. Why do Indian women do the most unpaid work in the world? What's stopping us from finding our inner boss? Why do we preface our work emails with “I was just wondering...”? And the big one — what’s keeping us away from workplaces?
So far, the podcast has featured personalities like sports presenter Mayanti Langer, policy analyst Mahima Kaul, economist Anuradha Bhagwati, and others.
In an interview with HerStory, hosts Aditi Mittal and Christina MacGillivray talk about the podcast, highlighting women’s issues, and share some interesting experiences from the process.
Focus on women in labour
Christina and Laura Quinn (Co-Executive Producer) have lived in India for an average of ten years and ran businesses in Delhi. In the summer of 2018, Christina says she first read about the rapidly falling rate of women participating in the workforce. At the time it had fallen from around 35 percent in 2005 to 24 percent in 2017, with the numbers falling further in 2020.
“When I asked friends, colleagues - and basically anyone sitting next to me about this, many people were in disbelief that this drop was occurring. There was something very interesting to explore in this gray area between what the data was telling us – and the fact that most people didn’t believe this was happening,” she says.
This investigative question was in many ways a jumping off point for diverse discussions around the many things tied to women and work: public spaces, unpaid care, power dynamics in the home and outside the home, and many other topics.
Aditi says that as a “woman in labour”, she has seen close at hand the impact that having work or being able to earn an income contributes to the well-being and empowerment of women. On a macro level, she was very interested in exploring the subject of women in labour, because she felt India was at a very interesting place in this regard.
“Indian women have the unique distinction of sort of existing in the intersection between being economic agents and reproductive agents. We see them as Devi, where they are mothers and daughters and sisters, but we also see them as Daayan where they are too ambitious, too mouthy, where they spend too much time outside the house. So, we've always sort of existed on that intersection, and I really was curious and keen to explore the nuances of women in the labour force,” she says.
Aditi says the conversations brought about a nuanced understanding from a range of perspectives.
“It was quite special to be a part of the connection between all these fantastic women, doing incredible work and to bring them together on a common platform, creating a common thread through these conversations, and bring nuanced understanding from a range of perspectives.”
“We are hosting a series of live theatre events (which are now live digital events during the lockdown) in collaboration with our partners at the American Center New Delhi and Wild City. These have been organised around themes including women and sports; women and music; women and spoken word; women and business – and the list goes on. I’ve loved the combination of creating both a podcast and a live event series. It means we can engage with the issues surrounding women and work on multiple fronts,” says Christina.
Issues faced by women in the workplace
Christina says, in the last six months, while interacting with scholars, economists, journalists, authors, entrepreneurs, and women from diverse perspectives, she found there is no single, straightforward answer.
“One key item where we can individually make an impact is on the amount of unpaid care work women complete at home. Indian women do more unpaid care work than anywhere in the world. It’s around six hours per day – cooking, cleaning, managing the household, caring for elders and children and many other tasks,” she says.
“If there is one thing we can do on our individual level, it’s to help distribute this labour between family members. This can also start at home by encouraging young boys (and not just daughters) to help around the house. This kind of gender division of labour doesn’t simply exist in India – it also happens where I am from too,” she adds.
Aditi says the one thing that struck her the most was that one of the major reasons why Indian women don't work is because they don't get help on the domestic front from their partners, whether it’s in terms of childcare, household work, or elder care.
Taking it forward
The Women in Labour podcast has opened up a lot of conversations.
“In fact, somebody was recently telling me about how she made their cousin listen to the podcast about motherhood because she was contemplating leaving her job after she gave birth. The podcast changed her attitude towards wanting to work or what work can do for her,” says Aditi.
“In Indian society, we have myriad depictions of a woman - as a mother, daughter, sister, wife - but there are hardly any depictions of her as an individual, at work, empowered, and fulfilled. I hope this podcast fills that gap, creating positive imagery of women at work,” she adds.
“We are looking forward to what is next for Women in Labour: we are grateful for the response we have received so far in Season 1. It’s been very encouraging to understand there is strong audience for these discussions. We are in the works for planning what is next,” says Christina.
Edited by Megha Reddy