Celebrating women's day began in the early 1900s when US women, spurred by the unfairness of gender inequality, campaigned for better pay, voting right and equal political representation for women. Every year International Women's day is gaining momentum with events such as art exhibitions, political debates, walkathons and workshops to celebrate womanhood and to turn the world's focus on international women's issues.
The global UN theme for International Women's Day 2009 is: "Women and men united to end violence against women and girls."
Of Adams and Eves
There are Adams who consider Eve to be God's first drastic, but delightful mistake and Eves who dub Adam "the rough draft before the masterpiece." Truth is, men and women have to explore ways and means to complement each other in the nicest possible way for their mutual benefit and save the world from a lopsided growth. When men and women unite to take the world forward, there will be a marked difference in the way problems are addressed and conflicts are resolved and society as a whole will reap the benefit.
A mutually better understanding will promote genuine partnership between men and women and this will greatly reduce the atrocities perpetrated on girls and women—especially in the name of religion, culture and custom. While blaming men squarely for all their woes, women also need to honestly search themselves and realize that some silent forms of violence, even in educated circles such as workplaces, is perpetrated on women by women themselves. As Pop singer Tori Amos observed, "The violence between women is unbelievable. Women try to make each other crawl so that their knees are bleeding."
A glance at some of the gender facts gleaned for worldwide focus on International Women's day 2009:-
• 80% of the 27 million refugees in the world currently, are women
• Only about 21% of all news subjects (people interviewed or featured in news) are female
• Women form 2/3 of the 1 billion+ illiterate adults in the world who have no access to basic education
• Globally around 30% of women form the workforce in computer and information sciences
• Between 1945 and 1995 the percentage of women MPs increased four-fold worldwide
• Women do approximately two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income
Female Oppression Issues
It is heartening to see women make major strides in different spheres of life such as political, corporate, cultural or professional and take the lead in any arena of public life—be it Hilary Clinton, Indra Nooyi or Angela Merkel. This is not happening universally, though. Moral policing and cultural terrorism still continue to rear their ugly head and pretend to show women their "proper" status in society in many places. Apart from those countries that openly treat women as second-class citizens, there are battered women even in advanced countries where domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive relationships—sexual or otherwise, cripple women at many levels.
Forced marriages, female infanticide, female genital mutilation, rape, domestic violence, sexual violence and honor killings are more of a norm than an aberration in many parts of the "civilized" world. For the International Women's Day to become meaningful each year it is necessary to see these issues in the context of female oppression in society and take due action to ensure safer lives and equal opportunities for women.
Bad News and Good News
Mainline religions still refuse to acknowledge women's decision-making skills and executive capacities, denying them leadership in key areas of religious echelons. Considering that religions influence people's lives greatly in many societies in the world, women at the spiritual helm can throw up fresh perspectives on accepted beliefs and shake off debilitating practices and customs that are especially detrimental to women.
It is true that even today in many societies, women are led to believe that it does not matter that their healthcare and education are sidelined. The guiding presence of sensible women leaders with insight will have a qualitative impact on the female population in any society and empower women with a greater awareness of sexual health, family welfare and inspire them to increase their qualitative contribution to the society as a whole.
The good news is that, though armed soldiers guard national borders, communication technology has melted barriers and encouraged women to connect and share their stories, views and ideas globally.
Pretty Tough Women
While we celebrate womanhood in 2009 let's not forget there are still women in many parts of the world—the kind of women that Khaled Hosseini describes in A Thousand Splendid Suns, " will never burden others, will never let on that they too have had sorrows, disappointments, dreams that have been ridiculed....."
The media mostly capitalizes on the publicity generated by women celebrities on a tailspin or those riding a wave, so much so "a woman who will be like a rock in a riverbed, enduring without complaint, her grace not sullied but shaped by the turbulence that washes over her" (Khaled Hosseini) is often sidelined as a nonentity.
International Women's Day needs to be celebrated each year so that the number of women who are treated as of no consequence decreases and all women get to love and be loved in return for their different capacities— as a friend, colleague, companion, mother, wife, sister, daughter, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law and most of all, as a guardian of the finest instincts of the human race.