Young women are increasingly taking charge of their lives, and getting married does not top the agenda. They view `settling down’ as living the life they wish for and it does not always include mushy romance with the man of their life. They seek financial independence to wrest the life they aspire for from the clutches of jaded stereotyping and misogyny .
It is the season of examination results, and I can bet the list of toppers will be full of names of young girls. Statistics about pass percentages and scores of schools, colleges, coaching classes and states will show that girls have systematically done better than boys. But what happens to these young stars in later years? We find so few of them in positions of power, rank, authority and leadership. How do we still land up with male dominated offices and governments?
How is it that half the population is engaged sub-optimally , in terms of participation and payment? Women simply fall of the curve at some point, a problem that has not been addressed satisfactorily .
The limiting stereotype that plays out is that of a young girl married off early, so that the parents feel a sense of completion of filial duties. Burdened by the responsibilities of the household, her career takes a backseat. When a child comes along, many young mothers simply quit their careers or settle for something far too less, but convenient.
Young women who protest that they do not need a man to `complete’ them are emotionally blackmailed into submission, citing the questioning society’s misplaced concern for their safety, security and care. Except for rebels who refuse to budge, young girls are not given the space to explore themselves and the world, but forced to operate within the confines defined by parents, society, the husband and the in-laws.
Our young girls need that bridge after they have qualified to get a job, to earn and seek the life they wish for. I recall a focus group of young women working as call centre executives, salesgirls and teachers. When I asked them about their financial goals, each said she was saving for her marriage, unwilling to burden the parent with the expenses. It was also a goal they accepted as important, having been tutored thus by their families.When we found out at the end of a group activity that each one wanted something else from their lives, we asked them why they would not direct their finances to those pursuits. The reaction was mixed-some asked why not, while others worried about disappointing their families.
We should provide our young girls a window of opportunity to use their financial independence the way they wish.Instead of asking young girls to invest in gold schemes, or do SIPs that will be encashed for their wedding, or investments that will be their security when they go to a new home, we should encourage them to build assets that will propel them in directions they want to take. For many young girls, the first job is perhaps the first time they would stay out of their homes. New places, new friends and new experiences can open up the world and enable them to pursue their interests.
When I met a group of engineers, all girls, who had come to Mumbai from Chennai to work for a technology firm, they were conditioned into believing that going back was the better option. The ones who persisted did much better than peers who returned. Young women who invested the initial years on their careers are better off in many ways. Real life experiences teach valuable lessons that cannot be picked up from books.
Financial planning for young girls should begin with the mandatory module of savings and investments that she can utilise in any way she chooses. Give the bright young girls a shot at enjoying their financial independence to rework their lives, careers and choices. Even if they remain in the traditional mould of marrying and bearing children, give them the opportunity to achieve a few years of professional success and build a financial corpus that is sizeable. That way they have a fighting chance of returning to work after taking a break to raise a child.
Modern parents provide parity for girls when it comes to education and nutrition, unlike in the past. That narrative should be extended to include the reality that bright young girls systematically fall off the career graph. Enable them to build a financial cushion for themselves, so they can make their professional and personal choices without compromises. Women will figure it all out if we give them the chance, the time, and the space.