March 8th dawns every year! As the world observes International Women’s Day (IWD), there will be the usual round of cosmetic programmes, with speaker after speaker using the politically correct words and with the typically patronizing attitude towards women. The sad and cruel reality is that precious little seems to change. In India and in several other parts of the world, most women continue to be condemned to live as second-class citizens in patriarchal and male-dominated societies.
Gurmehar Kaur, a 20-year old peace activist and student of the Delhi University, has over the last few weeks, emerged as an icon. She has courageously and brazenly taken on the fascist forces that are doing their best to destroy the fabric of India. The message she wants to convey is simple: she wants peace in the sub-continent. Her father who was in the Indian Army was killed in the Kargil war when she was just two years old. However, several men in India (including some so-called ‘celebrities’) are still unable to respect Gurmehar’s audacity and forthrightness. They have been trolling her, spewing hate and threatening her with violence and rape. In doing so, the men prove a point that they are still unable to accept the Gurmehars of our world!
Gurmehar’s courage finds resonance with the theme for this year’s IWD Campaign #BeBoldForChange that challenges one for “ground-breaking action that truly drives the greatest change for women. Each one of us – with women, men and non-binary people joining forces – can be a leader within our own spheres of influence by taking bold pragmatic action to accelerate gender parity. Through purposeful collaboration, we can help women advance and unleash the limitless potential offered to economies the world over”.
Very significantly, on March 8th, in the US and across the globe, women (supported by their allies) will find common cause and will act together for equity, justice and human rights of women and all gender-oppressed people through a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity. The plan is to remove themselves from the economy to protest societal barriers that keep all women from achieving true equality. Though two events are being held—A Day Without a Woman(#DayWithoutAWoman), organized by the ‘Women’s March’, and the International Women’s Strike(#IStrikeFor), a grassroots endeavour founded by a team of activists, feminists, and scholars—organizers are working together in solidarity to create a united message that represents women from all walks of life. They want to combat decades-long socioeconomic inequality by calling for marginalized communities—working women, women of colour, Native women, immigrant women, Muslim and other minority women, disabled women, and lesbian, queer, and trans women—to come together and make their voices heard.
The ‘Women’s Strike’ is intended to become the most impacting global movement. This is not an impossibility given the fact that women organized the ‘Women’s March’ on January 21st, which brought out millions of women not only in Washington but across the United States and in several Capitals across the globe – to protest against the anti-women rhetoric of the newly- elected US President. On March 8th this year, all (particularly those women who cannot go on ‘strike’ for obvious reasons!) are encouraged to wear red, which is the colour of love, revolution energy and sacrifice- as a sign of solidarity.
Since 2013, February 14th also has a newer meaning with the ‘One Billion Campaign’, which has been fighting against the sexual and physical violence against women… This year, the One Billion Rising Revolution gave sharper focus and visibility to the exploitation of women and has tried to harness even stronger global solidarity to demand an end to violence in all forms. ‘Rise! Disrupt! Connect!’ are the catchwords today for this significant campaign. The ‘Nirbhaya’ reality in India was not a once-and-for-all. It is a painful reality to which the average Indian woman is subjected to – in the private precincts of one’s home, at the workplace and even in open, public places. Women, in general, continue to be demeaned and even dehumanized.
A few days ago in New Delhi at a programme REMEMBRANCE – highlighting the fifteenth anniversary of the Gujarat Carnage there were several extraordinary women present. There were Zakia Jafri and Nishrin Jafri, the wife and the daughter of Eshan Jafri who was brutally murdered during that carnage. Teesta Setalvad, Shabnam Hashmi and others who have relentlessly championed the cause of the victim-survivors. Painful memories were shared. No one will easily forget the horrors and the brutalities, which several hundreds of women had to face during those terrible days of Gujarat 2002.
India has several other outstanding women today in every possible field. Fresh in our memory are the eight “rocket women’ of India, who recently were responsible for the launching of 104 satellites in one go. A historic scientific feat indeed; and as if on cue, it is the male politicians of India who want to take credit for the work of these women. All of us can easily find and cite several other examples of selfless and courageous women, including our own mothers and sisters, who have helped make our country and our world a better place.
Another stellar example is Savitribai Phule, widely regarded as the country’s first woman teacher. On March 10th, we observe her 120th death anniversary. She is credited with laying the foundation of education opportunities for women in India and played a major role in the struggle for women’s rights in the country during the British rule. She was a poet too; her poems were against discrimination and of the need for education. For most of her life, she campaigned vigorously against untouchability, the tradition of sati, child marriage and other social evils, which affect women. In one of her poems she writes, “end the misery of the oppressed and forsaken…break the chains of caste.”
From Savitribai to Gurmehar, there has certainly been plenty of change.Sadly, the plain truth remains- that it is not easy for women today- in India and elsewhere. Men have first to change their mindsets and their behaviour towards women: to treat them as equals, to give them the dignity they need. This is certainly a tall order; however, the bugle to be bold for change has been sounded: “WOMEN STRIKE!”