The following includes excerpts originally featured in the theatrical program for SJ Rep’s production of Disconnect.
Upon the expansive advent of the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) industry in India, more specifically “cost-effective” call center employment opportunities, conventional cultural intricacies and acknowledgements concerning the role of women in the workforce soon exhibited evolutionary manifestations. The most striking transformational developments have involved both social and bodily health issues, a shift in family dynamics and structure and an increasingly independent standing in society.
The rising tide of BPO in India, an economically expedient geographical base and “preferred time zone” for call center transmission to the UK and US, has effectively loosened the stagnant rigidity of socially imposed gender regulations. Perhaps most notably, the subsequent renouncement of the broadly and historically disfavored notion of female employees active after nightfall, prohibited acts seemingly based on “reasons of patronizing patriarchy [and] somatic effects on [female] reproductive health,” remains a fairly “new phenomenon in the socioeconomic scenario in India.” This newfound liberation, however, has produced both beneficial and harmful effects for women by stimulating an unshackled existence of self-governing while concurrently jeopardizing the well-being, or social and physical nourishment, of the females actively inhabiting Indian call centers.
Prominent studies have revealed that the irregular working hours at call centers has triggered physiological imbalances and impairments, unique to women and their biological clock, including, but not limited to, sleep disorders, indigestion, and an increased reliance on stimulants (products containing caffeine). These afflictions are considered to further exacerbate the ever-present complex dual female role of maintaining stabilization and harmony between one’s career and family life. Aside from gender, individual age additionally plays a vital role in determining the fate of many contemporary Indian women.
The common age of the vast majority of women espousing call center work, 18 –30 year olds, illustrates an understanding that this particular age group falls short of reaching a more typically deemed “reproductive age… (30-40),” wherein the demands of extensive child-rearing and family-oriented duties essentially pave the way to career abandonment. A recent study also confirms that unmarried female call center employees had little to no substantial ties with family members, opposed to employed married women enduring spousal tension and domestic conflict due to a reduced concentration and engagement in meeting gender-specific familial expectations. Moreover, although Indian women traditionally marry in their early to mid-20’s, the continued embracing of, and alliance with, BPO occupations has, in effect, compelled them into delaying marriage until their late 20’s to early 30’s.
After The International Labor Organization (ILO) and European Union repealed bans on nocturnal employment activity for women, a rescission considered to have been driven by the mounting pressures of globalization, in this case BPO forces, amended Indian laws consequently provided extended protections regarding women’s “dignity, honor and safety and their transportation from the factory premises to the nearest point of their residence.” This fundamental broadening of women’s rights is significant in that it unequivocally demonstrates an enhanced societal conscience and recognition toward female employment, a controversial concept amid an historically pervasive and archaic enforcement of domestic female drudgery. However, the underlying authoritative elements embedded in the practice of escorting female employees to and from establishments of employment also conjure a fixed characterization of women as vulnerable, marked by a desperate and continued reliance on male security and companionship.
In conclusion, the swelling presence of the BPO industry in India has generated both a rather subtle empowerment of young women by providing them with decent career outlets and resources geared toward promoting economic independence, while simultaneously inciting physical ailments and social discord by inadvertently aggravating deep-seated interrelationships and familial pressures, and disrupting prevailing gender-based distinctions and mandates.