Monday, March 12, 2007

A day to remember

Last Thursday was Womens' day. When I was growing up, I had never heard of Womens' day, probably because it was never in the news then. But I do hope that "Womens' day" turns out to be more than just a day to arrange events and have song and dance programmes. Beyond these celebrations, what is the state and significance of a woman in today's world?
The feminine is often associated with gentleness, peace, kindness and everything that is calm and comforting. How many times do we associate women with strength and perseverance, strong will and courage? Historically, from the right to education to voting rights,the right to choose their partner to the right to inherit property, everything has come to women at the end of a struggle. Including a wife's right to live after her husband's death, and her right to remarry, it has all been a fight to come out of the shackles of "society", whose rules are largely laid down by men. True - there have been a few regions/matriarchal societies where there was more focus and respect on women, but for the larger part, the world was and still is "a man's world". And women have waged many battles and continue to do so in this world.

In many parts of the world, having a male child, who supposedly carries the lineage forward, still matters a lot. India and many Asian countries still prevent prospective parents from knowing the baby's gender as a measure to prevent female foeticide. Female infanticide is prevalent in many nations across the world. Crimes against women are on the rise, so much so that one almost shudders to look at the news. Even babies and girls are not spared. Man is supposedly differentiated from animals because of his "free will" and "ability to think - these men are no different from animals, probably worse off. This is womens' most basic battle - for SURVIVAL and SECURITY.

There are so many poor women who work hard for their living - they support their drunkard husbands and their children with their income. And still continue to remain married, either because they have been taught to live with problems or because they feel their marital status protects them from abuse from other men. In the latter scenario, they choose the lesser evil - abuse by the drunken husband. Most of them put on a brave face and never look like they have problems - some of them have their own support systems and networks in the form of other women who go through similar issues. This is the battle for SELF-RESPECT and DIGNITY.

One would imagine that all these are problems of the poor and the uneducated. But the roots of the gender bias run quite deep. It is sometimes covered by education and "culture" and notions of gender-equality.Based on the economic stature and the level of development, there is only a difference in manner in which the bias manifests itself. But it does rear its ugly face everywhere. A number of middle-class working women have no control over their income. Working women are faced with the enormous pressure of managing their careers and their families - most of them get little or no help from their spouses. To give up their career would mean giving up all that they have worked for. So these women bear the cross and do all it takes to keep home and work going. Hold on - you might say, the situation is largely better in developed countries in the West. But then, some of the most developed cultures, I feel, have the most medieval ways of looking at a woman. Hilary Clinton's recent statement that one of the downsides of being a woman is that her hairstyle could get discussed more prominently than her policies, is the most powerful example of this "subtle" degradation in Western cultures. Here, women are waging the battle for EQUALITY in a true sense.

Womens' day is probably the day to look at all of this and much more that women grapple with in their everyday battles at all these levels. It is a time for the women to look at themselves, and pause awhile to bask in the glory of what they have achieved in the face of adversity. It is also the time for men to look at the women in their life, and thank them for all their contributions to enriching their lives.