March 8 is observed as International Women’s Day. This is tradition which is almost a century old. But today, as with numerous other ‘Days’ like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, Women’s Day too seems in danger of becoming a day to give ‘the special woman in your life’ a card, or take her out for dinner or buy her a gift—good commerce and yet another excuse for a party or socializing.
If we go back to the origins of Women’s Day, it was about the struggle of women against a social, economic and political order which suppressed them and denied them equality and rights. The first Women’s Day can be traced back to 1908, when 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. In 1910, at a Socialist International meeting in Copenhagen, an International Women’s Day was proposed to honour the women’s rights movement and to assist in achieving universal suffrage for women. Women from 17 countries unanimously agreed to the proposal. Following this decision in 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in several countries on 19 March. More than 10 lakh people attended these rallies campaigning for women’s rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination.
Is it our case that in India we no longer need worry about these issues? With study after research study highlighting female foeticide and the falling male-female ratio? With every day’s newspapers talking about increasing violence and crime against women? With education statistics pointing to the number of girl children dropping out of school? With girls being married off well before the legal age? With the glass ceiling very much in evidence in almost every sector?
By all means let us mark Women’s Day. It is crying out to be observed in our country. But NOT with cookery competitions and office parties; not with bouquets and dates; not with discounts on clothes and gadgets.
So what are the alternatives? Well, it doesn’t have to be dramatic. You could just take 15 minutes to learn about some of the issues confronting women. You just have to put the term ‘Female Foeticide’ or ‘Girl school dropout’ in your search engine. I assure you, it will be an eye opener. If you want to do something more active, visit a local government school and ask to see the girls’ toilets. Then think about whether it is really possible for an adolescent girl to attend school. Or talk to your maid and ask her how she spends the day—how many hours she spends working outside the house, and how many hours she spends on housework. Or talk to a woman working on a construction site—ask her about the work she does and the wage she earns, and compare that to the men on the site.
You may well find yourself a mission for your life. And that is what ‘Women’s Day’ should be about!