International Women's Day
by Eva Bell
(Bangalore, Karnataka, India)
On the 8th of March, Women’s groups all over the world will be celebrating International Women’s Day. Mass meetings and seminars will be organized. Newspapers and magazines will carry a spate of articles on Women’s issues. The history of the movement will be recalled in an attempt to derive inspiration from the path breaking struggles of ordinary women.
This day should not be just a date on the calendar. It is an occasion for reflection on the progress we have made, and a call for more changes where necessary. We also turn the spotlight on acts of courage and determination performed by ordinary women. We cannot deceive ourselves that because we have access to education, and because we have stormed many a male bastion in our fight for equality, patriarchal attitudes of centuries have been demolished.
This is a time for Indian women to look subjectively at themselves, and assess whether their role in life contributes to their identity and development. It should be a qualitative appraisal, not just how gender defines a woman’s treatment but how a woman perceives the meaning of being female, from the personal, social and political point of view.
“She must reverence that woman in her who struggles for expression,” says Margaret Sanger.
Real change must come from within. We need to personally celebrate our gender esteem and bask in the dignity and status given to us by a benevolent Creator.
“I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves,” said Mary Wollstonecraft.
Many a time in our race for equality, we try to blur the differences between the sexes and struggle to be equal in a man’s world, where he sets the standards and also has the last laugh, because we inadvertently play by his rules. Virginia Woolfe, whose mind was preoccupied with the subject of Androgyny for many years, eventually came to the conclusion that women should actively fortify the differences between the genders, for only then can we come into our own. Our sexuality is an integral part of our total person and is intimately bound up with the disparate roles we are called to play during our lifetime, as wife, mother, sister or sweet heart. It is this perspective which provides the basis for sisterhood and solidarity, as we join hands with women across our country in a shared identity. Our expectations for ourselves and our daughters, our stories of struggle and triumph are what bind us together in a relationship that must be mutually supportive.
The spotlight on International Women’s Day should not be exclusively on women who have reached enviable heights of achievement, but on those who are struggling at grass root level, to make the world a safer place for themselves and their children. This is what Naomi Woolfe calls “power feminism.”
“A woman must shape the roles of members of her family. An educated woman must organize her family with her informed mind. A less educated woman can attempt it with the strength of her background tradition.”
There are many instances where village women have proven to be more liberated than their liberated sisters in the cities. They have begun to demonstrate that they mean business and cannot be taken lightly. This may just be a drop in the ocean, but it is a definite beginning. The story of a humming bird comes to mind. It was trying to extinguish a bush fire by carrying drops of water from a stream. Back and forth it went until another bird commented, “Don’t tell me you’re going to put out that fire with your drops of water. How long do you think it will take?”
The humming bird replied, “If more birds like you will join me, we could do it in no time at all.”
In the Vaku village of Kutch, the anti-dowry campaign that began four years ago has succeeded in eliminating the evil of dowry from several villages in that area. There were 37 dowry deaths in 2005, and the women couldn’t take it anymore. The Sarapanches of the villages were confronted by the might of women’s power.
“We have to save our daughters from going up in flames,” they said.
An NGO called Abdasa Mahila Vikas Sansthan threw its weight in support of the movement. Awareness campaigns were organized, films shown and literature distributed. This strategy not only conscientized both men and women, but empowered them to make a historical decision to eradicate the dowry menace.
Tribal women of Peddamullapuram village in Andhra, have banded together to repulse Naxal attacks. They have also enforced prohibition in a village comprising 225 families. No brewing, no selling, no consumption of alcohol is permitted. There are many such villages in the South where woman power has triumphed over alcohol, which is the cause of so much poverty and domestic violence.
Sheer determination saved a young girl from a child marriage. Though she was betrothed at a young age, she prevailed upon her parents to break off the engagement by paying a heavy fine to the prospective groom. This girl was eager to pursue her studies and didn’t mind trudging five miles to school. In her free time, she worked for a doctor, so that she could one day become a ‘barefoot doctor’ in her village.
It was a delight to hear of 45 couples belonging to the Patel community in Gandhinagar,Gujarat who showed extraordinary courage and determination when they appended to their marriage oath the following declaration.
“We shall not indulge in female foeticide, and never get a sonography done to find out the sex of our children. This is illegal and we will cooperate with all activities to curb the menace of female foeticide. The oath comes from the bottom of our hearts and we will never hanker after a male child.”
What was more surprising was the fact that the oath was administered by the Swaminarayan sadhus. It goes to prove that changing the mind set of men and demanding of them ‘shared responsibility’ in discarding derogatory social and cultural practices, pays high dividends.
Young girls are proving to be committed change agents within their homes and communities. Avindula Divya all of 15, had a good self image and was secure in her identity as a girl. When her father a toddy tapper died, she took on her father’s occupation, even when no woman had ever attempted it before. She now supports her mother and four sisters with this income, besides continuing her education. She was in the 8th standard at that time.
Change is slowly but surely taking place. It need not come through mass movements or be accompanied by fanfare. It can begin even in the remotest village when there is awareness of the possibility of a better standard of life. Illiteracy and Superstition are the two enemies of progress. They must be attacked on a war footing.
But even more basic is the need to redefine our feminity. Our self worth springs from the knowledge that woman is the mother of all living things.
“We are the doorways of life, and we must choose what comes in or goes out,” says Marge Piercy.
The basis of our self worth is satisfaction in who and what we are.
Our self acceptance is recognition of our strengths and admission of our weaknesses. Each woman must be secure in her own space and have the freedom to exercise her own choices.
Rose Schneiderman has put the aspirations of women in a nutshell.
“What every woman wants is the right to live, not simply exist; the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, sun, music, and art. You have nothing that the humblest worker has not the right to have also. The worker must have bread, but she must have roses too.”
On this International Women’s Day we celebrate the dignity of all women whether working in an air conditioned office, or as cooks, coolies or maids. Beauty and strength are in their womanhood and their determination to stand up and be counted. *** About the author: Dr.Eva Bell is medical doctor by profession, and a creative writer by passion. She has published both fiction and non-fiction. Eva has been awarded Rev.Lobban Indegenous Book Award for 2011-2012 for her book Womanism, the Adventure of being a Woman. Her latest fiction 'Runaway Widow'. Check out her website http://www.evabell.net/ Note: If anyone wants to copy this article please copy it with the author's bio.