Picture 15,000 women marching through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights and a lot of unrest in 1908. Women’s oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Cut to today, March 8, internationally observed and celebrated as International Women’s Day after a resolution adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations(UN) in 1977, two years later from 1975, the International Year of Women. March 8 is now the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace to be observed on any day of the year by Member States, in accordance with their historical and national traditions. The Day is traditionally marked with a message from the Secretary-General. All over the world, women’s organizations and other organizations will be observing this day with serious debates, chalking out plans with a commitment to the empowerment of women.
Each year, a theme is also dedicated for the day and forthcoming activities. The theme for 2008 is: “Investing in Women and Girls”. The celebration will have an intense focus on financing for gender equality at the country level. It may be worth remembering that the theme for 2007 was Ending Impunity for Violence against Women and Girls.
At the UN level also, the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a functional commission of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women has already convened a series of meeting staring from the 25 February to 7 March 2008. The CSW is the principal global policy-making body. Every year, representatives of Member States gather at United Nations Headquarters in New York to evaluate progress on gender equality, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies to promote gender equality and advancement of women worldwide.
Representatives from Government of India and accredited NGOs will also be taking part in this meeting. The principal output of the CSW is the so-called Agreed Conclusions on priority themes set for each year. Agreed conclusions, contain an analysis of the priority theme of concern and a set of concrete recommendations for Governments, intergovernmental bodies and other institutions, civil society actors and other relevant stakeholders, to be implemented at the international, national, regional and local level. The final report of the Commission is submitted to the Economic and Social Council for adoption.
New programs and new budgetary allocation for women will then see the light of the day. These will trickle down to our state, not only to the Department of Social Welfare, but also other departments related to women like Health and Education etc. The theme for 2008 is significant and pertinent for the realization of Women’s rights. One hopes to see and taste the fruit of this endeavor. One also hopes that this will not be merely introduction of new and faster cookers, microwaves etc to hasten the cooking process and also in giving special loans for women for buying vehicles to accelerate their income generation activities. That will be more of an eyewash and tokenism at the hilt. We are discussing this in a land where a woman cannot even read (not scan) the morning dailies without feeling guilty for delaying the household chores. Men, of course can read till thy kingdom come or till food is ready. That will be considered valuable time spent effectively, macho etc. He continues to be macho if he leaves his rice plate to be picked up by a women of the house. Mind you, if he picks up and then washes the plate, then he will be outcasted as “feminine” or “henpecked” if married. The writer stands corrected if this is not really true.
This is the reason why this year’s theme is so significant as to how one and the society shall tackle all the gender stereotyping. No doubt, the contribution of the brave and selfless women of Manipur is countless and will continue to dominate the discourse on Human rights activities in Manipur, be it be political, economic, cultural and social. Nevertheless, one cannot help wondering whether these women are living life to its fullest with no grudges of being born a woman. It is worth thinking over. It will also be worth deliberating on the role and status of our women in this present society where patriarchal values have cemented over the mindset. One may argue that this is awfully wrong and there is a lone woman MLA, some middle rung bureaucrats and a lot of women leaders. If this is so, many families shall not bemoan the birth of a girl-child in the family, spending less on her ipan thaba. Wish it was a boy is the general hush-hush whispers. And why not? If our society cannot see a woman as a human being, this wish shall ring for a long time. Juxtaposed to this, is the fact that discrimination and stigmatization looms large for the women who fights for her rights.
While saying this, a woman who has duly completed higher level of studies, investing energy, time and money, cannot realize her professional dreams to the fullest due to added responsibilities of the house and family, which a man might easily escape from, being a “man”. One cannot help but think as to what good is education for a women in a society which continues to forget that she is also a human being, and not just a ”woman”(by men and women both). Still, women comes out holding meiras, to the keithel, schools, colleges and offices, in cycles, in cars, in planes, keeping aside all the discrimination, to be thought over a fine day when she has time(which never comes). Ironically, tolerance and patience is also considered a “feminine” attribute. It is a lifetime struggle to come out amidst all these differences. One may feel like negating these views, especially men and women who think they are “liberal”, but it is a challenge to see which views hold more water. As the saying goes, truth hurts and inevitably so.
So, why this day for the world’s women? In adopting its resolution on the observance of Women’s Day, the General Assembly cited two reasons: to recognize the fact that securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women; and to acknowledge the contribution of women to the strengthening of international peace and security. For the women of the world, the Day’s symbolism has a wider meaning: It is an occasion to review how far they have come in their struggle for equality, peace and development. It is also an opportunity to unite, network and mobilize for meaningful change.
But this change will not be possible if seen by our legislators and policy makers from a myopic lens. Gender equity and gender equality has never been a fight by women against men, never will be, but when will the twain meet. Patience and tolerance should also have a pay-day.
The author works with Forum for Indigenous Perspectives and Action and may be contacted at email@example.com
The Imphal Free Press