Female bureaucrats: Balancing a tightrope walk?

Most government offices are male -dominated. What is it that holds women back, that doesn't let them follow their dreams?

Are women really safe in the world today? Are there enough women officers who are sympathetic to the problems of women? Is there sufficient staff who is empathetic the problems of other women, even if the problem is not voiced out aloud? Is the future generation of women safe, in the wake of the rising crimes against them?

I think not. Or rather I would diplomatically say I do not know.

Balancing career and personal life is a real tightrope walk for women on top. File pic.

This thought really scares me. More than that it shocks me. In a liberated and educated nation like ours, we talk of women empowerment, reservations for women and equality with male counterparts in every field. However it couldn’t come true in the real sense.

Out of curiosity, I decided to do a quick search on the internet for details on women on top jobs in government. I searched in the official government websites for Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS), Indian Forest Service (IFS) and Karnataka Administrative Service (KAS) officers.

While on the face of it there does not seem to be a dearth of female officers, they are not on par with men either. The number of women holding prestigious posts of IAS, IPS, KAS and IFS officers does not seem to match the rising population figures, or the gender ratio.

There are only 39 women KAS officers listed in the state government list. Out of 147 IFS officers, 16 are women. Apart from this, the registered female officers in the IAS and IPS associations is 42 and 28, out of 238 and 136 respectively.

An observation which struck me was this: the number of IAS officers is more than the IPS officers, and the number of IFS officers is lesser. Does this mean being a police officer is tougher and dangerous for women, than holding the post of an administrative officer? And, does this also point that the life of a forest officer is laid on a bed of thorns and is worse than that of the other two posts?

Why are women needed in top posts?

I always feel women are needed in every front, not just to prove that they are equal to men or boost their ego or self confidence, but simply to make the society a better place for all.

I can explain this with a simple example. One day I decided to travel by BMTC bus all through the day. It was a weekday afternoon and all the buses at Majestic were crowded. I got a seat just behind the driver seat in the bus. The bus had not even left Majestic bus stand and suddenly, the driver hit my hand from outside the window. I was shocked and scared. I immediately asked him why he did so. He apologized and replied: I was drawing your attention to your veil which was obstructing my view in the mirror.

I was not comfortable with it. I informed a male police official who boarded the bus at Okalipuram. He said: “Madam do not make an issue of nothing. I am sure he did not do it intentionally. This is a minor issue, there are many other things we have to deal with.”

But when I discussed this on the same evening with another lady police official and a female bus conductor in another bus, They were upset with the issue. They said: “It is not acceptable and we should point this out to the higher ups in the BMTC. There are many cases which go unreported because women are not confident enough to complain. There is a need for more women staff in every front so that the present situation improves.”

The lady police official also pointed that many a times women do not report cases of domestic violence, marital rape, professional abuses, travel discomforts like obscene passes made by others and many other cases including rape. This is because they are scared of the embarrassment they will have to face while reporting it to men.

In case of civil services, women would better understand and be more vulnerable to the problems against their female colleagues. But the number is very less.

Balancing marriage and career

Interestingly, another thing I observed was that most officials who joined the services were married to their counterparts or seniors in the stream. This is how they were able to continue with their career.

During one of the personal interactions with a female IPS officer, whom I would not want to name here, she pointed that unless there is support from the partner, it is not possible to continue in career. So if there is some one in the same profession it is always helpful.

There are also cases where some of these women officers have quit their job for higher studies or family chores.

But it is needless to say, as it is visible to all, that many have strived hard and survived just out of their determination, hard work and conviction, without having any godfathers. So the misconception that you need to be hooked to some one to hold a top post is a myth.

These women are emotional and sympathetic to the feelings of others, they are at the same time cut throat and mean strict business. Mixed feelings revolve around their colleagues about them. While some point that they are tough and un-understanding, others state that they are more easy-going, and communicating their personal problems to them is easier as they have a family too.

Recently, I was speaking to a senior IPS officer as I needed some document. He said: “I am sorry I cannot send you the details as my female staff is on leave as it is the festival season. This is the problem with female staff, they have to juggle between office and work, so this is the reason why many do not take up top posts. Even if they do, they are very choosy about the portfolio, because they want it to suit their personal lives as well. What is with we men, we have to work and feed our family, we have a big reason to be excused from all festivities. There is no time or work restrictions on us.”

What a thought! But is this the ground reality and truth even today? Is being tough like IAS officer Durga so difficult? Do women have to choose a safe, secure and earning profession unlike their counterparts who have the right to follow their dreams and choose from varied options?

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