'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever: Its loveliness increases; it will never Pass into nothingness'
- John Keats
It is a yearly reminder of the unspoken yet resolute power of women to rise above the odds in a rather skewed patriarchal world. This day is ample evidence of the crusade that began in the 1900s for gender equality, and restoration of basic rights to women. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of Independent India had said, 'You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its Women'.
The International Women's Day 2008 reflects this ideology in its theme for the year - 'Investment in Women and Girls'
as the only way to improve the world.
To the whole female fraternity that dons the many hats of a mother, sister, friend, partner, companion, wife, colleague with surprising élan, the world doffs its collective hat in adulation! Gender Equality - A Mere Rhetoric?
Looking at a Sunita Williams breaking the earthly barriers to soar into erstwhile male bastion or an Indra Nooyi transcending the proverbial glass ceiling to become the Chief Executive of PepsiCo, or the indomitable spirit of firebrand cop Kiran Bedi and the achievement of the current and first woman President of India, Smt Pratibha Patil and many more, one may be lulled to think that gender equality has arrived. Though it does signal the arrival of the emancipated woman, these are only stray examples of women who have worked doubly harder to prove themselves in a male dominated world. 'Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good' ~Charlotte Whitton
Women are not treated at par, as substantiated by their representation in business and politics. The basic right of education and health are still denied to many in the developing or the underdeveloped countries of the world.
Gender -based discrimination is rampant even in the 'first world' which goes to prove that a woman's education, financial status or even her geographical location does not completely shield her from abuse. This is so because in many a case a woman's ill-treatment begins at the hands of people who are 'close' to her. Woeful Figures
• Three quarters of the poorest in the world are women; one thirds is without a roof on their head.
• Women form an estimated two-thirds of the global illiterate population of 800 million adults.
• One out of three women runs the risk of being beaten, forced to have sex, and suffer some form of abuse in their lives.
• The commercial flesh trade has an estimated 2 million girls from 5-15 entering the fray annually.
• Domestic violence is the numeruno killer in the developing countries and far more potent than destruction due to illness, accident, or war.
• Nearly 50% of women have been snuffed out by the 'killer instincts' of either their boyfriends, present or former husbands.
• Complications during pregnancy claim a woman's life every minute
• Of those out of school in India, 90% are girls. Abounding Paradox
Notwithstanding India's progress as an economically developed nation, women and girls are still grappling atrocities every day.
In India, a woman is
- Ripped off her modesty every 34 minutes,
- Suffers molestation every 26 minutes,
- Sexually taunted and harassed every 42 minutes,
- Kidnapped every 43 minutes, and
- Set on fire every 93 minutes, burning her dreams and aspirations for not complying to the most malevolent of systems - Dowry.
India is said to be home to the greatest numbers of malnourished children and records the highest number of maternal deaths. It is foolhardy to expect a healthy progeny when women suffer unequal nutritional status. A malnourished mother can only produce a malnourished child.
The paradox is heightened when women are held directly responsible for measures to end hunger and poverty.
Women in India are overworked and don't get the necessary recognition for their work. Mistreatment of women occurs in many forms - physical violence, rape, murder, sex-selective abortions, and female infanticide despite laws against the same, which portray the appalling status of women. Tip of the Iceberg
The scene in the rest of the world is not very rosy either. In the strife ridden parts of Darfur, in Sudan
, many women and girls fled their home to refugee camps
in a bid to escape rape and violence
. Akin to landing straight into the fire from the pan, many of them were trapped, raped and abused by the militia and locals
In America, an estimated one to three million women face varied forms of abuse; nearly three women on an average are murdered every day
by their husbands or boyfriends.
Rumors are rife about injustice to women in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq
. Many of the women were terrorized by the sexual advances from their own trusted buddies! Gripped with fear of repercussions, such atrocities were never made public.
The case in Saudi Arabia, famously called 'The Girl from Qatif' underlines the gross injustice to women at the so-called portals of justice. The 19 year old girl who was gang raped, received punishment along with the perpetrators of the crime, for going against the law of the land and choosing to be alone with a male companion. After receiving 90 lashes and a brief stay in the prison, the King ordered that she be lashed an additional 200 times for garnering media attention in a bid to influence the verdict in her favor. She was slapped with an additional 6 month stay in the prison.
What was her fault in the case - Of being born a woman? Fair Sex in an Unfair World "There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, and never tolerable." - UN Secretary-General Ban ki Moon
Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon launched a campaign among nations to end the discriminatory practices against women. Calling it a pressing issue that 'cannot wait.', he said,'At least one out of every three women is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Through the practice of prenatal sex selection, countless others are denied the right even to exist. This is a campaign for them. It is a campaign for the women and girls who have the right to live free of violence, today and in the future,' he said. It is a campaign to stop the untold cost that violence against women inflicts on all humankind.'
Echoing the same sentiments, Action Aid
Policy Director Jessica Woodruff minced no words and said, 'Thirty-five years of working with communities on the ground has taught us that unless we support women in recognizing and claiming their rights, we have no hope of creating a fairer and more just world. There isn't a single development issue that isn't a women's rights issue - that's why women are still on the march.' Let There be Light
Women like men have the same needs. Access to education, health facilities, and desire for personal success, power and money
are similar to that of men. What, then, is stopping us from creating a life of parity, safety and happiness for women? It is the way we think.
'Survival of the fittest' is the ground rule of existence. For eons of years the human race has been conditioned to interpret strength as a physical entity ONLY. Today we know that mental strength is a far superior virtue. Centuries of battering has endowed women with strong, emotionally viable, inheritable traits, which are waiting to be drawn upon.
Women should stop looking at a male parent, guardian or a partner as the sole source of security and should instead learn to derive succour from her own 'financial fitness' and inner strength. It would do well for women if they begin to identify what is and what is not good for them and learn to create a life outside of an abusive relationship-be it an intimate one or a parental tie. For after all we are not cats with nine lives. Lets make the most of the one that we have! 'In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years' -Abraham Lincoln