Women's Day Special

Hundred Years of International Women’s Day

Rohit Vats for BeyondHeadlines

AAKHIR SCENE KYA HAI (At last, what is the scene):

As March 8 comes, we all gear up to celebrate International Women’s Day. However, there have been two such minor incidents that have a kind of multilayered meanings. It has not been a long time when former Health Minister Dr Anbumani Ramadoss had said publicly that the number of alcohol consuming youth, including girls, was growing rapidly. What he actually meant was that liquor-taking girls and boys were against the so-called Indian culture. Probably, this societal pressure was the real force behind the urge of that girl who asked me if I could arrange some liquor for her. When I was thinking of giving her a lecture against drinking, she came up with the reason behind her strange wish. She simply said, “I am done with my studies in this town, and now I am returning to my home town. I want to taste this thing before I would be caught again in that cultural net.”

This reason had a lot of meanings as this had come from an empowered girl in terms of studies and family background. Further, when her boyfriend came to know about her wish, he scolded her badly and also threatened to leave her. It was a completely different matter that he was not a teetotaler. When she asked about her personal freedom, he almost slapped her. When the girl finally understood the tense situation, she surrendered and they again became the happy couple.

Second incident had another woman in the middle. This single lady has recently got the chance of directing a telefilm produced by Door Darshan. On the very first day, she had a fight with her sound person because he was not listening to her commands. The stubborn sound recordist kept doing the same till she complained about it to the responsible authorities. When both of them patched up, she asked about the sound person’s weird behavior. The recordist answered in jolly mood that “madam jee jaise gaadi chalana auraton ke bas ki baat nahi hai, waise hi technical kaam bhi unke bas ka nahi hota hai” (dear ma’am, technical works are not easy for women in the same way as it is most difficult for them to drive a car).

KAHAANI  KAL  KI (Tomorrow’s story):

Obviously, the time has changed and so has the thought pattern of the society, but it is still very early to give any judgmental comment about the personal freedom enjoyed by women. In 1869, British MP John Stuart Mill was the first person in Parliament to call for women’s right to vote. On September 19, 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the right to vote. Women in other countries did not enjoy this equality and campaigned for justice for many years. In 1910, a second International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. A woman named Clara Zetkin presented the idea of International Women’s Day. She proposed that there should be a celebration every year and in every country on the same day – Women’s Day – to press for their demands. The conference of more than 100 women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties and working women’s clubs, including the first three women elected to the Finnish parliament, greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval, and this resulted into the International Women’s Day. The very first International Women’s Day was celebrated the following year by Clara Zetkin on March 19 (not March 8). This particular date was chosen because March 19 of the 1848 revolution, the Prussian king recognized for the first time the strength of the armed people and gave way before the threat of a proletarian uprising. Among the many promises he had made, which could not be fulfilled, was granting women the right to vote. For fun, one may say that the beginning was actually based on a failure. The reflection of Prussian King’s failure is visible in the deeds of the boyfriend and the sound recordist, where they are struggling with different levels of prejudices. It is true that there is nothing new in these examples, but the striking feature is that it is all happening right under the nose of Parliament in our capital, leave aside the conditions in countryside.

MARKET BHI TO HAI (Market is also there):

The newspapers (not TV news channels), which are supposed to be the caretaker of individual and fundamental rights, are completely devoid of new ideas to promote International Women’s Day. All they are doing is asking for public opinions about this celebration. At most, they will feature some lady CEOs, without looking into their personal profiles. Capitalism-promoting companies like Hindustan Lever Limited or other beauty products players are better than these media houses as they are at least creating this sense of self awareness. It is true that they are ultimately interested in selling their products but still because of this one fact, their sin could be overlooked. Last year’s hit media campaign “GHANTI BAJAO” would be an important thing to mention here. In that anti-domestic violence campaign, the absences of ladies were very conspicuous like the protection of women is the responsibility of their male counterparts only. This shows the moderate feudal mindsets. However, this would be a success if the point is taken by the social forces. It seems very difficult because Khap Panchayats (a system of social administration and organization in the republics of Northwestern Indian states such as Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) and other cultural groups are working without any fear. We should also not forget people like retired Inspector General of Police Shambhu Pratap Singh Rathore (S.P.S. Rathore) or Vikash Yadav who are helping them in creating a sort of favourable condition to flex their muscles. If we go by the current judicial process, we will find that these cases are also giving impetus to chauvinistic ideas because they present powerful people in a different light where everything seems to be at their disposal. Ultimately, these cases present victimized women as soft targets. One question will rise that how we should spread awareness then. We are living in an information age where we can regulate the flow of information. We will have to become a little choosy as message sender and will have to focus on that part more where the public anger is clearly visible.

KANOON KE HAATH (Reach of legislation):

The discussion will be very inadequate if we miss POWDV Act, 2005 – The Protection of women from the Domestic Violence Act also known as Domestic Violence Act or DV Act. The act was brought into force in October2006, and it defines women who have suffered from violence in domestic relationship as aggrieved persons. Also, it clearly aims to protect them. In the third year of the DV Act implementation, practitioners and professionals have started either to criticize or comment on its practice or to assail on its misuse. Generally, women know nothing about the DV Act before consulting service providers. Some decide to file the DV case because husbands have filed divorce petition beforehand; therefore, women take the DV Act as a tool to protect them from being kicked out from their families. Nearly every woman with experience in court has found it such a long process to get the executive order (report by an activist Pin-Hsien Wu). It is a common consensus among activists that this act has not provided much relief despite its entire elaborated rule book. The prime reason behind this is simply the unwillingness of women to fight for the justice. For sheer argument, one can question that they are ignorant towards their legal rights. It is absolutely correct but at the same time, it is our failure as a collective society that we have not made them aware about these obvious rights even after hundred years of the 1st International Women’s Day.

After the Second World War, International Woman’s Day remained a Communist holiday until around 1967 because it had Lenin’s contribution. According to a story, it was revived in the United States by a group of women at the University of Illinois, Chicago, which included daughters of the US Communists who remembered having heard of this holiday. Since then, it has become the occasion for a new sense of female consciousness and a new sense of feminist internationalism. In India, in addition to boasting about some Bedis and Vyas’s, there is not much to offer actually. Occasionally, there are few Mirzas and Merricoms pop up, but where is the sense of international feminism. For this, the contemporary society needs more Nisha Sharma and Ameena Begum (girls who returned their would be husbands from mundap, covered structure with pillars temporarily erected for the purpose of a Hindu or Jain wedding).

And yes, please do not forget that some of these brave girls are still unmarried, thanks to their popularity. In case, if you think that the condition is presented in an exaggerated manner or the matter is not so serious, here is some of the normal statistics, which is based on the 2001 census reports.

*According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), India reported 3,2481 murders, 19,348 rapes, 7,618 dowry deaths and 3,6617 molestation cases in 2006. (Remember, this is 2011).

*Number of cases where conviction took place: 1830 (real cases).

*Cases that are acquitted or discharged (Total): 3598 (false cases)

*Total cases disposed = 5428 (real + false cases)

*Total cases pending in the beginning of the year: 29,713

Now take a look at women’s health condition in India:

* 56 % of the adolescent girls are suffering from chronic Anemia.

* Almost 79,000 women are suffering from cervical cancer only, leave aside total cancer patients.

* 3% rise in reports of breast cancer.

* Nearly, 76 % women are suffering from one or the other deficiency diseases.

(Data based on the reports of National Family Health Survey, 2006)

Last but not least, the educational condition of w women

*Out of 304 million completely illiterate Indian population, almost 221 millions are women.

* Female literacy rate is meager 53.63 %, while male literacy stands at 75.26 %.

* 27% children are having education in private schools and out of them, only 8% are girls.

Believing that stats are only a tool of building the argument, let us again come to our actual concerns. Why there is the need to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 every year. Answer is very simple; if we as human beings are suffering from so many problems, we will have to be united against each evil. International Women’s Day provides an opportunity for communities to recognise and celebrate local women’s achievements and the contribution they continue to make in their respective areas. To put it right one may use Virginia Woolf’s statement — Women have served all these centuries as looking glasses possessing the magical and delicious power of reflecting the figure of a man at twice its natural size. Thus the ultimate aim is to give women the place they deserve without taking any pity or showing particular sort of sympathy.

PAISE  KI  TAAQAT (Power of wealth):

Projections indicate that by 2050, the world’s population will stand at around 9.2 billion, up from around 6.7 billion at present. The vast majority of this hike will be in the developing world. In developed world countries, populations may start tapering off after 2025. It seems likely that this explosion in population in the developing world will do nothing to address the fact that per capita wealth is massively skewed towards the developed world. Using the World Bank data for 2000, the average per capital wealth in the top 10 wealthiest countries is a staggering 170 times greater than the average in the bottom ten. If this will be the overall scenario, how come one can assume that we will be able to provide women their due right in the absence of adequate money. Basically, what we are talking about is the women’s economic freedom.

The new Structural Adjustment Programmes facilitated by the Indian Government to usher in globalisation in our traditional economy will reach the expected goal only if the process of globalisation is backed by properly planned national policies in a conducive social and economic environment. Globalisation is a double edged process as far as women are concerned. On one hand, a majority of women in India and other developing countries find themselves stripped off the benefit of social security and government’s protection of labour rights while on the other; there are possibilities of better education facilities and opportunities at the transnational sense, which are very attractive to the privileged few. However, it is necessary to understand that effective development requires full integration of women in the development process as agents of change as well as beneficiaries because Indian women can be utilized as development resources in many ways. The reason behind this motive is crystal clear that India is a hugely populated country and thus, it has a great number of untrained female workers who can be used as skillful workers with proper training. Therefore, the foremost thing we need in this 100th year of International Women’s Day is proper programming for professional courses specially designed for women.

GAON KI GORI VS SEHAR KI CHORI (Rural Girls vs Urban Girls):

“The fastest way to change the society is to mobilize the women of the world.” — Charles Malik. Unfortunately, despite all hue and cries, women are not totally integrated as a distinct entity. Rural and urban divide is certainly there in terms of everything, be it fashion or education. Urban women have same kind of ignorance towards their rural fellows as male have. Urban elite social workers treat rural women as some medieval species. They may have their own logistics behind doing so, but what we should not forget is that it is rural women’s arena, which needs to be taken top priority simply due to the fact that it consists around 35 % of whole Indian population. We also have to be very specific in our planning because rural people are rapidly coming into the clutches of capitalistic forces. E.g. nowadays, it is a common trend to send at least a dozen Dove soaps and two big bottles of Garnier hair colours with the new bridegroom in Mithilanchal of Bihar State. These companies have taken women into confidence through their strategic promotion of real women softness and so called celebration of true womanhood. Although we are not dealing mainly with totalitarian economic forces, still there is a need to device a counter strategy to make every woman aware about their original self. Obviously, an individual should possess the rights about his or her looks. But if this will become the last desire, it will become extremely difficult to get their support for a collective social achievement. The message should be loud and clear that women are not only meant for their divine beauties. Therefore, even after so many years, International Women’s Day needs to be presented in a new light as a thread of strength.

(Courtesy: Times of India)

Now it becomes the responsibility of urban elite social workers to tell their rural counterparts about the correct use of money. The inverted pyramid structure of economy should be focused more sharply to provide better facilities for self help groups, rural banking and small cottage industries. This is needed to come from an urban woman as they can gesture as role models for rural women. Hope, the next International Women’s Day will bring it into existence.

TOH AAKHIR KAREIN  KYA (Then what should we do?):

Microfinance has evolved over the past quarter century across India into various operating forms and to a varying degree of success. One such form of microfinance has been the development of the self-help movement. Based on the concept of “self-help,” small groups of women have formed groups of 10 to 12 women and operate a savings-first business model, whereby the member’s savings are used to fund loans. The results from these self-help groups (SHGs) are promising and have become a focus of intense examination as it is proving to be an effective method of poverty reduction. Cumulatively, 1.6 million SHGs have been bank-linked with cumulative loans of Rs 69 billion. In 2004-05 alone, almost 800,000 SHGs were bank-linked. The policy environment in India has been extremely supportive for the growth of the microfinance sector in India. Thus there is this need to exploit the situation in order to give women the economic power and International Women’s Day can work as a platform to discuss about the financial policies.

Although there are some community radio stations run by women are trying their best, but they need to promote the common agenda with more ferocity. And in this way, the 100 years of International Women’s Day can act as their launching pad.

The International Women’s Day is going to give us a common stage for feminist thinking where the discussion about the Women Reservation Bill is inevitable. Activists should be ready to use this time to exert more pressure on the government and to critique those thinkers who are against this bill. Hundred years is not less time and one needs to accept this fact that as a group force, feminists are only moderately successful. However, not everything is finished, thus all that is needed to be done is to use the legacy of last hundred years to decorate the forthcoming time.

“In our culture, being a woman means being a mother and the guardian of the ‘home fire’ – in this sense I am 100 per cent a woman. Only my home fire is much bigger than normal, and I feel responsible not only for my home, but also for the family.” This was the reaction of Rosa Shayahmetova, head of Red Cross in Kyrgyzstan, when she was asked about her responsibility as a woman. We need to manufacture more Rosas to celebrate 125th International Women’s Day with much more sense of triumph (don’t worry; we have 25 years to achieve it).

Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, “She doesn’t have what it takes.” They will say, “Women don’t have what it takes.” — Clare Boothe Luce.

(Write to Rohit at vatsbirpuria@gmail.com)

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