Every year, there’s a lot of hoopla around Women’s Day celebrations. But the issue of discrimination still looms large
One more International Women’s Day has come and gone. Proudly we hailed it as the day of the new, empowered woman. Train tickets and baggage tags exhorted us to “celebrate her life”. Meetings, seminars and cultural fests filled the air, T.V. channels spun out colourful “She” and “Magalir” gyaan. Dance, music, kolam and “do-it” contests awarded mixies and modern cookware (eeek!) as prizes. A walkathon bannered issues that hinder the growth of women on the global platform. Never mind that all the 300 walkers were girls.
A tech firm gifted its ‘potential women staff’ — some 1200 hand-picked engineering students — a two-day package of tour, stay, fun and soft-skill lessons on its swanky campuses across states. It was to give them “a perspective on the implications and importance of being employed.” We’ll assume the girls had a good look at the implications. One university presented its female population with a gender budget — for more women-friendly spaces in the university (why?). The web world hinted at job portals for women.
Now for the hard news. Girls from small towns get labelled BTMs (behenji-turned-mods) by big-town bullies. “I wouldn’t want to be seen with a behenji unless she makes efforts to be ‘up to the mark’,” said one. A Delhi police booklet helpfully warns women students from the northeast, “Revealing dress to be avoided, avoid lonely road/by-lane when dressed scantily, dress according to sensitivity of the local population.” That child molestation is high among the “local population” is just a piece of junk news. Pre-natal sex determination, selective abortion and female foeticide go on among educated, urban, well-to-do classes. An Oxford University study shows Indian women in U.K. too abort daughters. Oh, uh, sorry, I’m off to a Women’s Day binge. Catch up with it later.
In an interview, a top MNC executive advised women “to demand your rights”, but admitted she would have to start her own business and “create her own rules.” Her creative skills are accepted as top rate but “my strategic skills and business acumen are suspect. I’ve had to go that extra mile and perhaps I wouldn’t have had to, were I a man.”
The Indian Commercial Pilots Association asked its 600 pilots not to fly with senior airhostess Amrita Ahluwalia because she complained of sexual harassment by a senior pilot. Amnesty International India tells us that a disturbingly high percentage of schoolgirls “continuously face the risk of being sexually assaulted, harassed or intimidated in or on the way to school.”
“Women’s Day’s a joke now,” said Kalyani Menon Sen of Jagori. “A feel-good exercise with all-women plane crews and 10 per cent discounts. You sing and dance and gratefully applaud the few schemes doled out.” It started as women workers day, she said, a day on which women demanded workers’ rights. “The irony is Women’s Day now falls neatly into the “liberal” frame. The husband dutifully buys wife a credit card, boyfriend buys diamonds. A few women who “made it” are awarded. We are commodities or consumers of commodities. Why aren’t we talking about basic things like unequal wages and high food prices? Underneath the different groups that women identify with (women in IT, women lawyers, women entrepreneurs) discrimination’s still the same, isn’t it?”
We’ll “celebrate” women’s day when men take time off to raise kids. When the male partner says, “I’ll quit and join you in the new place.” When brother and sister are raised to believe in equal opportunity. When people stop questioning a woman’s character when she files an FIR stating sexual harassment.
When parenting doesn’t become the issue when a young girl is found murdered on a beach.
We’ll party when women don’t become “faraway brides” because impoverished parents marry them off to men in places with poor male/female ratios.
When women have to put in 60+ weekly hours of work to stay in competition with men, aren’t pushed to drown their daughters because of constant ridicule for having given birth to them, aren’t asked to “fit into the system,” as Kiran Bedi said.
We’ll certainly have a blast when women no longer get paid 16 per cent less than men for the same work, when women can raise kids without having to battle alcoholic men and domestic violence.
When parliament awards the 33 per cent reservation, when we don’t read reports that 60 per cent of adolescent girls are anaemic.
What would be Kalyani’s women’s day? “We have a day, let’s use it well. Let’s rally in large numbers to show a sense of solidarity. Talking is not enough. Let’s get an identity in politics. Let’s move between the two spheres, our specific group and the larger movement to help the marginalised to assert themselves. Let’s claim equity as citizens, not as women.”