My favourite quote on women’s day is from a South African activist. She entered one women’s day meeting once and said. “Eish, I am tired. This is the only month when I get invited to speak at so many places that I am frothing in the mouth. Rest of the time I am screaming and frothing in the mouth to tell people what I have to say and all they tell me is – shut up” South Africa, by the way, celebrates the month of August as women’s month and 9th August as women’s day.
What she says about sums up women’s reality even in 2017. We are being asked to shut up about everything we have to say. Even on International Women’s Day!
Let us take a close look at women’s reality today:
- Women make for more than half the world’s population. More than 90% women’s work does not get paid.
- While the ratio of employment to population for male is around 70 percent, the same is around 40% for women.
- More than two third of the women who are employed are in the informal sector.
- Women make up for most of the poorest population in the world.
- Women are paid less than their male colleagues in most countries. Globally women earn around 60-75% of men’s wages.
- Women devote 1 to 3 hours more a day to housework than men; 2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick), and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities.
- Gender inequalities in time use are still large and persistent in all countries. When paid and unpaid work are combined, women in developing countries work more than men, with less time for education, leisure, political participation and self-care.
- Women have significantly less access to financial institution and institutional support to participate in economic activities. (Ask me about it. I am a business woman now! )
- At every stage of life, from birth till date, in almost all societies, women face restrictions, discriminations and violence. (I am not even going into the whole gamut of violence against women at this point.)
How many women are not able to choose a career of their choice? How many women are not able to move around freely, day and night, using any form of public transport? How many women are almost single mothers looking after children all by themselves despite being married or having a partner? We know the answers to these questions.
What we need to understand is that this situation for women is arising out of patriarchy and capitalism (they are the same thing if you ask me) that imposes, invents and promotes gender stereotypes. You are right about that uncomfortable feeling you get when a washing machine or a beauty product advertisement wishes you happy women’s day. You will be right if advertisements telling your husband, dad, boyfriend, brother or boss to treat you nicely make want to puke. You are right if it infuriates you every time you see a woman being rewarded with a diamond ring for being this perfect model of femininity and beauty that the media promotes and society endorses. Personally I also get annoyed by all the messages that glorify women, her supposed powers, her endless love and her extra ordinary abilities. For ‘women’ is not a singular being. Women are varied in their look, ability, disposition and preferences. There may be a woman who does not like being a mother, there may be a woman who does not like to work and there may be a woman who does not like to be pampered. The ones who do may change their preferences at point of time. A woman can be sick, can be dependent, can be needy, can be angry, can be unwilling and can be talkative. And she is still an equal being to any man or another woman.
And the International Women’s Day on March 8th is not about that. International Women’s Day is about the women’s struggle. The hoo haa is because we have come far in our struggle. The hoo haa is because we still continue to struggle for equality and justice, not just between women and men, but for an equal and inclusive society. If you do not say every day is my birthday, if you do not say every day is durga puja, if you do not say every day is independence day, if you do not say every day is disability day, if you do not say every day is a day free of violence, restriction and discrimination in the world, do not say every day is women’s day. This day has a history, this day has a cause.
Women’s day is a recognition and celebration of the women’s struggle and achievements over hundreds years. A lot of things we take for granted these days like women’s right to work and right to vote have come from the struggle. It is rooted in the women’s labour movement. It has a history of women’s anti-war stance. It is not a celebration of women’s beauty or strength (to raise kids, look after homes, work like a man etc). It is not the celebration of women’s success in performing the feminine role assigned to them by society. It is the revolution of breaking that gendered imposition, on women and men. It is a history of women’s militancy that has made it possible for women to have decent working hours and conditions, to get maternity leave, to get laws of sexual harassment and violence against women in place in some places.
March is also the Women’s History month. What is extraordinary is not the feminine powers of the woman but that there were no women when history was being made. At least it feels like that if you read written history. Women’s history month is an extension of the International Women’s Day to consciously recognize women’s contribution to the world. You can read books written by women, on women, organize events to share women’s writings or write to contribute to the women’s history month.
International Women’s Day is a reminder that the revolution continues. So fist up comrades! Feminist salutes to all who struggle every day!