The younger me abhorred International Women’s Day. What about the other 364 days – I would fume. As someone who grew up in relative privilege – I wasn’t killed for being a female, and nor did my family look at me as a burden. I was encouraged by both parents and the extended family to explore my world and make my choices. I would go as far as to say, that I had more freedom than my siblings – both boys. It is only much later in life I realised what a rarity that is – to be brought up as an equal and empowered to make choices, to have unconditional support and love from your family to follow those choices.
The older me realises that the one day is needed not so much to celebrate us, and our achievements – those would need all 365 days – but to remind us, starkly, that although we are almost half the world in terms of population, we are nowhere in terms of any power metric in the world. We earn less than men – on an average woman earn about 80 per cent of what a man earns for a comparable job.
While there has been an increase in political participation, women only occupy 25 per cent of all national parliaments in the world. In India, this is an abysmal 14 per cent at the Parliament level, and an even worse 9 per cent at the state level. And, while the condition of women today is definitely better than it was a century ago, there is still a lot of progress left to be made.
Three core issues
If we look at the issue of women’s rights, there are three core issues that still have to absorbed by society, law makers, and other powerful people. The first is the right to exist and thrive. The second is the right to exert the inherent freedoms and rights that are conferred by a modern nation. And the third is the right to economic dignity.
The right to exist and thrive – most societies fall at the first hurdle of protecting the rights of girls to at birth and growing up. Although female foeticide is banned in India, people still find a way around it. The desire for a boy is so great that girls are murdered even before they are born, if the family is affluent, and after they are born – if the family is not.
Between India and China, we account for almost a 130 million missing girls. A euphemism for girls murdered either before or after birth – to satisfy the need for a male progeny to carry forward the family name. And for those who survive, the future, in many places, is bleak. Despite being banned worldwide, there are 33,000 child marriages that take place across the world, every single day. Over 52 million girls and women, worldwide, have faced female genetic mutilation and it is estimated that 3.5 million are still at risk. None of this is legally allowed. But, all of this is socially acceptable.
At the core of the second set of issues – the right to exert the inherent freedoms and rights that are conferred by a modern nation – is how we normalise violence against women. How society and patriarchy look at women’s right to consent. And, how we accept so much of discrimination and innate unfairness on the basis that this is ‘culturally acceptable’.
'Purity' and worth
The recent question by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde to a man accused of raping a minor and then threatening to burn her with acid, was: ‘Will you marry her?’. The linking of a woman’s worth to her ‘purity’, and seeing a violation of her body and her mind, as something that can be restored by ‘marriage’ – is an attitude that permeates society. This ingrained attitude is what emboldens female foeticide at one level and honour killings at another. Rape is still endemic in most societies. Women across the world, the victims, are constantly judged for this violence against them, rather than the onus being on the perpetrators.
And finally, the right to economic dignity. Women provide the labour that builds society. The labour that feeds households. The labour that supplements incomes. The labour that gives care to family members to enable them to go out and be productive members of society. Women’s labour is the foundation of every economy – and yet, it is not even recognised as work. The time for this to be recognised as work and paid for by the state is overdue.
It is valuing the worth of women’s work and their contribution to society and the nation in tangible terms that will redress the balance of equality. We are the last group in the world that still provides labour for free. Everywhere else, slavery has been abolished. It is when we achieve the combination of these rights, that we will stop needing an international women’s day. Till then, we need to definitely look at how far we have come, but more importantly, we need to look at all that remains to be done.
The writer works at the intersection of digital content, technology, and audiences. She is a writer, columnist, visiting faculty and filmmaker.