Tomorrow is 8 March. Tomorrow is ‘International Women’s Day’. Tomorrow is a day of exchanging best wishes. Tomorrow will be presented women’s problems with statistics and concerns will be expressed. Tomorrow there will be speeches, articles and sighs. Tomorrow people will be hopeful after coming across examples of women’s success. Tomorrow Radio, Newspapers and Television channels will salute Women and many will express Gratitude. The Market will shout about ‘Discounts to Women’. Tomorrow women will wear their best dresses and lunch together. Tomorrow will be a day of smiles and despair.
Whatever is the experience, for many people it last for at most 17-18 hours. On 9 March, everything generally falls back to normalcy. People, especially men joke about ‘how there is a need for men’s day’ or ‘how women are getting all the favors in this world’. Many times I feel that such opinions are expressed because people are not aware of the history of why and how ‘Women’s Day’ came into existence.
Before moving further, I would like to emphasize two points. One, I do not believe that only women have problems in this world and all men are happy. No one with common sense would make such a sweeping statement. Men too face problems, they too struggle, they too have responsibilities and men too are unhappy. However, when we think about women-men relationships, we realize that men have an upper hand. When I say women-men relationship, it is not about husband-wife relationship (as most of us in India spontaneously think) but son-mother, brother-sister, father-daughter, colleagues … all such relationships show that men get better treatment, men get favor. Women favor their sons over their daughters; because women are born and brought up into a system which favors men. It is an invariable impact of the social structure and the upbringing. I am not going to discuss ‘Patriarchy’ in details. However, we need to understand that Women’s Movement is not challenging individual men but Patriarchy. Patriarchy means secondary status of women, the existing men-women hierarchy, the stereotypes regarding roles and responsibilities of women and men.
Secondly, one has to accept that not all men are insensitive because they are men and not all women are sensitive to other women just because they are women. There are sensitive men and insensitive men. All the men in the world do not behave badly with every woman they come across. Similarly, there are sensitive women and there are insensitive women. Transformation is expected in both men and women. So, Women’s Movement works not only with women but also with men. For many years we have been taught to treat women as secondary. So it becomes our habit to treat women as if they are inferior to men. It has not happened and it is not happening only in India, but it is a world-wide phenomenon. There was a time when some believed ‘women to be a separate Class’ and expected them to revolt against another class called ‘men’. But, women’s identity has many aspects (common with men) – such as Religion, Ethnicity, Province, Language, Caste etc. All these factors influence men’s and women’s identities. At the same time women have to carry the burden of being women – across all the societies. In spite of being many differences among women in the world, they share something common which cuts across all the above mentioned factors.
I won’t describe the concept of Patriarchy in details here. Broadly speaking, male progeny preference; discrimination between men (sons) and women (daughters) in food, clothes, educational opportunities (Women also discriminate because they are born and brought up into Patriarchy); household chores being the responsibility of only women (and girls); control over women’s movement and body; sexual exploitation of women and girls; lack of inheritance right (in India we have improved laws now); lack of decision power to women regarding how many children she wants and when; … all such points highlight the importance of men in the life we all live. There might be some exceptions around, but we are discussing the general norms.
So, Patriarchy means: men have control over women: control over women’s productive and reproductive capabilities; control over women’s sexuality, control over women’s mobility, control over all the resources etc. Different institutions and systems like Religion, Family, Law, Education, Market, Politics shape and strengthen Patriarchy.
Let us accept openly that men are also burdened by Patriarchy. They too have to fulfil specific roles and carry out specific responsibilities with which all men are not comfortable. They are also trapped in a system, which no doubt is still more beneficial to them. Women’s Movement turns away from these traditional roles and responsibilities and appeals to us create an environment where all individuals will have equal opportunity to realize their potential. Men and Women have different bodies (though only reproductive system is different), but based on that an entire social structure of discrimination and favor has been created. Women’s Movement is not asking us to change the body, but the asking us to change our ways we look at women’s body. If you review the life of your grandmother/father – mother/father- and you – you will realize that social change always happens. The changes Women’s Movement is seeking are difficult and time taking, but they are not improbable.
If women’s awareness about their Rights increases, men certainly will have to give away most of the benefits they get in Patriarchy. That is one of the reasons why some men dislike Women’s Movement. However, we need to realize that Women’s Movement (and there are different schools of thought within the movement) is not against Men. It is not about Men versus Women, but it is about Men with Women. The “women” are not someone we do not know; she is the mother, the aunt, the grandmother, wife, girlfriend, friend, daughter, colleague, neighbor …., these women enrich our lives, their happiness would make men too happy. Men and Women both need to contribute towards this struggle of Women’s Rights.
The struggle for Women’s Rights is on for centuries. These Rights are classified into Economic Rights, Civil Rights, Socio-Cultural Rights and Political Rights. Basically, all these are Human Rights. The form of the struggle has changed, the tools used by the movement have changed and the response also has changed. Many sensitive men have supported Women’s Movement during the long journey. Many laws have been improved to accommodate Women’s Rights. But we still have a long way to go. Not only in India but across the world, we still have lot to do to achieve the goal of Women’s Rights.
We are not going to discuss history of Women’s Movement here – may be some other time. However, we would briefly look at the evolution of ‘International Women’s Day’.
In 1908, women working in Garment industry in New York (USA), declared strike to demand better working conditions. To support these demands, in 1909, women in USA celebrated ‘Women’s Day’ on 28 February. In 1910, Copenhagen hosted Socialist Conference in which more than 100 women from 17 countries participated. The Conference passed a resolution of celebrating “International Women’s Day’ to support Women’s Rights movement and Right to Vote for Women. However, the date of celebration was not fixed.
In India, on 26 January 1950, Constitution was adopted and it established Right to Vote for both women and men (who have completed 21 years, later the age was reduced to 18). We in India, do not know about women’s worldwide struggle to get Right to Vote. (Also in many countries all men did not have Right to Vote; description of this journey will need separate blog-post.) Let us look at the journey of some of the countries – which will give us some idea of women’s struggle.
Sweden – in 1718, taxpayer women members of the City Guild had the Right to Vote. Women’s Right to Vote was achieved in 1921. United States of America – in 1756, one woman in Uxbridge (Massachusetts) was given a Right to Vote in Town Meeting. In 1910 women’s Right to Vote was established in some of the States and the process was complete in 1920. Great Britain 1928; New Zealand 1929; United States of Soviet Russia in 1917 (after abdication of Czar); 1935 British Raj (included India) and Burma (now Myanmar); 1945 – France, Italy and Japan; 1947 China and Pakistan (initial only literate women could vote in Pakistan, in 1956 the right was extended to all the women); this process is going on. In Saudi Arabia women were granted Right to Vote in 2011 and they could contest municipal election only in 2015. So, the struggle is still on.
As an impact of Copenhagen Conference, on 19 March in 1911, millions of people (both women and men) celebrated ‘Women’s Day’ in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland. With Right to Vote, they also supported demands like Right to Work, Right to Vocational Training, Right to Equal treatment (no discrimination) at workplace.
In 1913, women in Soviet Russia filled the streets on the last Sunday of February in demand of Peace. In Europe, Women’s Day was celebrated on and around 8 March in 1914. In 1917, on the last Sunday of February, Russian women took the streets demanding “Bread and Peace”. This was 8 March according to Gregorian Calendar. (Later Russia accepted Gregorian Calendar in 1918.) Within 4 days, Czar abdicated.
Different countries kept on celebrating Women’s Day. In India, All India Women’s Conference Initiated Women’s Day celebration in different towns on 1 March 1930. India celebrates ‘National Women’s Day’ on 13 February which is a birth anniversary of our First Women Governor and Freedom Fighter Sarojini Nayadu.
Women’s Day became truly International in 1975 when United Nations Organization declared 8 March as ‘International Women’s Day’. All the countries now celebrate this Day and many events, discussions are organized on this day to review progress and strategize towards achieving Women’s Rights.
The journey to Gender Equity is a continuous journey. Every year for ‘International Women’s Day’ a theme is declared so that it does not remain one-day activity. In 1975, the theme was “United Nations recognizes International Women’s Day”. I easily remember the following themes: Women and Human Rights (1998); World Free of Violence Against Women (1999); Afghan Women Today: Realities and Opportunities (2002); Women and HIV/AIDS (2004); Women in Decision Making (2006); Empower Rural Women, End Poverty and Hunger (2012).
The theme for 2016 International Women’s Day is #PledgeForParity. Four types of activities are suggested which can be taken up by individuals and/or organizations. 1. Help women and girls to achieve their ambitions: challenge conscious and unconscious bias 2. Call for Gender balanced leadership 3. Value women’s and men’s contribution equally and 4. Create inclusive, flexible cultures. If you come across any other idea, you are free to act on it. I have pledged for the first idea, though these four ideas are not compartmental but connected.
You can sign the page here. If required, develop ideas which you think will work in your environment.
Can we declare our commitment to “Parity” – in home, at workplace, at whatever place we spend time? Can we act with consciousness towards Gender Equity? Both Men and Women are expected to work jointly to arrive at a better world. Signing this pledge only makes us feel better to know that we are not alone on this path. There are millions in the world who are trying to make the world better.
Happy International Women’s Day to you all.
Please, do share your experiences of the journey. I look forward to learning from you.