The last colony

On Valentine’s Day, 2013, a billion people will declare their resolve to end the subjugation of half the people on this planet because of their gender.

December 01, 2012 05:36 pm | Updated December 05, 2021 09:13 am IST

In search of a fair world. Photo: S. Subramanian

In search of a fair world. Photo: S. Subramanian

“Women are the world’s last colony,” declares Kamla Bhasin, the feisty, eloquent, charismatic campaigner for women’s rights and gender equality in India and South Asia. “Other colonies have at least won their formal freedom, but not women. Their labour power, resources, sexual power are all still colonised by men.” The idea that women are a colonised people has stirred feminists ever since a conference in Toronto in 1971, in which women were characterised as the oppressed Fourth World, still struggling for liberation.

Next spring, on February 14, 2013, a billion people will rise all over the world as an act of collective resistance to the subjugation of women and girls, and the violence they live with. Why a billion people? There are seven billion people who inhabit the planet today. Half of them are women and girls. It is estimated that one of three women and girls across the world suffer violence; in their homes, at work spaces, in public spaces, on the streets. This makes a billion women and girls who suffer violence as a way of living.

The ‘billion rising’ is an occasion for these billion women and girls to break their silences, to declare “Enough is enough! No more!” And they will not resist alone. It is hoped that millions of men and boys will also join them to say they care; they oppose violence and resist discrimination. The day selected for the global resistance is February 14, a day on which romantic love is conventionally celebrated. “We also stand for love: justice-based love, equality-based love, dignity-based love...”

The world is divided by inequalities of class, caste, race and disability. But probably the most comprehensive and pervasive of all inequalities — the most cruel, dehumanising and damaging — is of gender, of socially and culturally imposed differences between women and men, boys and girls. These profound inequalities extend to every aspect of life: nutrition, education, livelihoods, leisure, within homes, in work places, in public spaces; they extend to virtually every culture and community in almost all phases of history.

Women’s work and contributions are gravely undervalued. If a value was placed on women’s unpaid housework, it is estimated that it would be in the vicinity of $11 trillion annually. ILO estimates that women perform 66 per cent of the world’s work, earn just 10 per cent of the world’s income, and own as little as one per cent of the world’s property.

Unequal India lives most, according to Kamla, in unequal families. In most Indian languages, the word for ‘husband’ literally translates into ‘master’, never partner. And 40 per cent of these ‘master’ partners beat up their wives. The intimate spaces of the family are hidden battlefields for domination and violence. Even in the most upmarket, wealthy, educated enclave of South Delhi, the lives of 120 girls are extinguished in every 1000. As many as 35 million girls and women have been eliminated within families by sex-selective abortions, neglect, violence and abuse.

The violence in families is not incidental or by chance. It is structural, because every system of oppression and domination throughout history was maintained only through regimes of violence and fear. There is nothing biologically that makes men superior to women; they maintain their domination over women through dread and the application of violence. Women are the ‘property’ of men, who need to be tamed and husbanded by violence.

Men are brought up in ways which foster brutishness, aggression and violence. Even as a small child, a boy is handed a toy gun. If he wishes to play with dolls, he is laughed at. Everything which is soft, caring, nurturing is deliberately crushed in the ways we raise our boys. One dominant instrument deployed by men to reduce women to fear and subjugation is rape. She is dismayed by the ways men use a segment of their bodies as weapons, and then the same segment of the body is used to express love and for pleasure. In all wars and communal and ethnic violence, the bodies of women become battlefields to be captured, violated, humiliated and tamed.

Feminists like Kamla see hegemonic patriarchy at the heart of all the world’s great problems: the reckless domination of nature, war, militarism, exploitation, inequality, and capitalism. Another feminist writer Dale Spender remarked: “Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practised no cruelties. Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions… for safety on the streets… for child care, for social welfare… for rape crisis centres, women’s refuges, reforms in the law. If someone says ‘Oh, I’m not a feminist’, I ask ‘Why? What’s your problem?’”

It is for these reasons that on February 14, 2013, one billion women and men, boys and girls, will gather across the planet, to declare their collective resolve to end the subjugation of half the people on this planet because of their gender. They will walk the streets, sing, dance, shout slogans, celebrate, introspect, grieve, dream, and resolve that the world should at last become safe and fair to all people who inhabit it — women and men, girls and boys.

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