International Women’s Day

March 14, 2016

by Nowruz

It’s a common assertion these days that women are as empowered as men and work equally in every field. They are doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, army officers, scientists and CEOs but it wasn’t always so. This has been an outcome of a long drawn tedious fight of the likes of Savitri Bai Phule. She was the first Indian woman teacher and she founded the first Indian school for women, due to which she was often pelted with stones and cow dung in her time. Thanks to various such struggles, young women like us today are able access education even away from our homes. History bears witness to these struggles that have given us this world where women are able to pursue education and contribute to the society in a variety of ways.

The International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8th, March every year to commemorate the incessant militant struggles of women. Prominently since the beginning of the twentieth century, various women have agitated against the oppression of women in the advanced nations of the World. Back in 1908, 20000 women workers of New York factories took to the streets with their demands of equal pay, reduction in the 16-hour work day and universal suffrage rights. Every year, this day we commemorate the long history of women’s struggle against exploitation, oppression and injustice. Over a century later we still celebrate this day in recognition of these struggles, since a large section of the women are still languishing under the yolk of overwork and poverty.

The struggle over unequal wages is still on in our cities and factories but one need not look further than their own lives to locate the oppression of women. Look no further than your colleges, do you know whether the sanitation staffs receive minimum wages? Whether she has regular employment or not? Do you know whether the house help at your residence, hostel or rented accommodations get minimum wages? It is not as if women work less than men, if anything they work more considering the fact that they work at home too, yet they do not enjoy equal wages or privileges. In the unorganised sector, employers in the quest of higher profit exploit labour far more than in the organised sector. Labour in the unorganised sector rarely receives even the minimum wage which is its right, they rarely receive the provident fund or the insurance the employer is bound to provide (ESI) and there has been an incessant assault on their right to organise in trade unions. Considering these working conditions in general women suffer adversity at work where they are paid even less than men for the work and at home they have to raise children and often face domestic violence also.

Women in the forests of our country are struggling against governmental auction of the very forests and hills they have inhabited. They are struggling against the submergence of their villages under rivers obstructed to construct dams. Such movements have seen frequent conflicts with the state and women have sustained physical assaults, molestation and rapes. In the border states of Kashmir and Manipur armed forces have used the Armed forces special power act to inflict violence on women. A case in point is that of Kunan and Poshpora where 40 women were raped in their houses while their men where dragged out and beaten by the Indian Armed forces. Similarly in 2008 Kavasi Hidme, a 15year old tribal girl was abducted and raped in police custody with such brutality that her vagina fell off with the excessive bleeding. She was charged under another draconian law, the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act but she was ruled to be innocent in 2015 since there was no evidence to implicate her. Kavasi is probably our age today and she has been through so much, just like a lot of other struggling dalit and tribal women. So many such displaced, neglected, unemployed women migrate to the cities in search of a dignified life. Many of them become construction workers, some who come through contractors are made house-helps and many even find themselves pushed into sex-work. Since the Government takes no responsibility to these sections they are neither able to study and many of them are not even able to return to their homes again. As a result a large section of such women are a part of the flesh trade that flourishes for profit right under the nose of the system.

On the flipside young women, married or unmarried alike, are regularly controlled by telling them to maintain an untainted ‘character’ by not ‘staying out late’, staying ‘within your limits’ or acting like ‘you’re from respectable families’. The limits of women have been codified in the role of the mother, daughter, wife etc. by religious texts like the Manusmriti since ages. With a few modifications these roles still apply despite the fact that, woman today has gained significant importance in non-reproductive work yet her role and importance in the society is still associated in a large part with that. So much so that women who are incapable of bearing a male child or of carry out their marital roles are deeply stigmatised as evident from the case of divorcees. This stems from the same argument that talks about respecting women since they are also someone’s sister, mother or daughter, well what if they are not? Are they not entitled to respect by virtue of being equal human beings? This robs women of their historical struggles to be their own representatives. Their identity again becomes a derived identity as opposed to a direct one like that of a worker, lawyer, teacher, student or a political activist.

The roles accorded to women also define their spheres of activity, for instance, we are often told that the woman belongs in the kitchen while the man goes into the outside world to earn a living to run the household. Not just that, even within her sphere the woman is expected to participate in all sorts of religious rituals like fasting and special prayers, whereas the man engages in sport, debate and political engagement. As a result we often find that women are more prone to ill-health than men, due to negligence of her nutritional needs in general and even during menstruation and pregnancy. Not to mention the various taboos associated with menstruation and pregnancy, anaemia and dizziness due to the blood loss is common. In the name of their choice to do whatever within the household women are relegated to chores while men engage with trade, markets, international developments and political activities. Moreover disciplines like home science and Arts are looked upon as feminine whereas mathematics and sciences are looked upon as more masculine subjects. Such segmentation obstructs the development of both women and men in more ways than one.

So women’s day and their struggles is not just about reclaiming their identity or the right to choose. It stretches from agitating against dowry deaths, incidence of rape, the practice of sati, harassment, eve-teasing, in-time in women’s hostels to fighting for entry into higher education, reservation in the parliament, safe and clean environment, equal pay for equal work, regular employment and the right to unionize. To achieve these ends women have taken on fathers, brothers, husbands, governments in repeated and extensive struggles and this why this day is celebrated as a day commemorating the genuine struggles of all hardworking and agitating women of the world against patriarchy. That is because a patriarchal society obstructs an equal society and women cannot hope for freedom within an unequal society. Therefore, women in colonies, schools, colleges need to come together against the fetter of patriarchy and organise themselves in order to agitate.

Not only must women but all men and women who believe that a better world is impossible to create within an unequal society must come together and dismantle this patriarchal system that pits human against another human.