Remember the poster of the female flexing muscles from an American wartime ad of the 1940s with the caption ‘We Can Do It’? A refreshing sight considering that history has not been very kind to women. Oh c’mon, don’t roll your eyes and discard this as another rant on how powerless women feel and why 33% reservation in Lok Sabha is not just a pro-feminist stand but also a lesson in practicality in light of the principles of equity and justice. This article is not the cryptic balderdash of someone who loathes the male species and cribs about womankind’s dreary existence (thank God Microsoft Word did not return ‘womankind’ with a red line under it), rather it is a tribute to women who have overcome odds in daily life to emerge just as strong and gritty as any man (yes, we are comparing ourselves to men, because after all, the demand is for equality and not superiority).
Consider the decades’ long fight for voting rights, education and equal pay for equal work, all while menfolk wondered why women’s dresses were getting shorter and more comfortable and females wanted to step outside the confines of their household chores and contribute to the economy. My, how dare women assert themselves? Then came along the tag of ‘feminist’, another ism to compartmentalize and identify. Not long after ‘Feminazi’ followed (we have Rush Limbaugh to thank for that), a movement for equality conveniently juxtaposed with a political ideology that any rational individual would condemn. Somehow in the long run, Feminism became a bad thing to be associated with, some going as far as claiming “I am not a feminist.” Society has not only managed to make women feel inadequate for work outside the house but it has also warped ideas of self determination, confusing the demand for equal rights with notions of purity, docility and submissiveness. Therefore, we have a constant barrage of statements like – “You’re weak like a girl”, “Stop whining like a girl”, you are getting the idea, right?
But within the whole women’s rights dialogue and drawing room discussions, there are women all around the globe quietly minding their business, putting significant parts of the machine into motion, ensuring the smooth functioning of our daily lives, acting without trumpeting their deeds. The manual scavenger’s daughter who has managed to go for higher education despite being at the receiving end of layered discrimination on the basis of caste and gender or the many women who have endeavoured to make the world a better place through their organizations and startups or the mother who micro-manages every household item to ensure that supply and demand within the house is never skewed – these women are heroines in their own right, in no way overshadowed by the Indira Nooyis and Naina Kidwais of our times. Add to that the growing number of women taking part in physically exerting adventures, like Arunima Sinha who decided to climb Mt. Everest despite losing her leg in a train mishap, women in the armed forces (the demand for women to be at the front still continues) or even the all female biker clubs across the country. How many of us so not have a relative or friend whose day starts at five, when she starts taking care of her aged parents, packs up lunch for her school going kids and herself, goes to work and returns only at night, all while her husband stays abroad? She may be an independent and intimidating woman for an evolving society but no less than superwoman to her family.
A woman officer leading the Air Force contingent at the Republic Day Parade is well and good, but perfunctory gestures are not enough, especially when involuntarily most of us react to women drivers on the roads as ‘bad or negligent drivers’ and tend to undervalue a successful woman’s promotion as a result of her intimacy with the boss. We have seen strong women in powerful political positions, heading thriving businesses and achieving that which their grandmothers would have thought impossible, but compared to men in the same fields, the proportion of women is dishearteningly low. Research by the World Bank suggests that the share of women in the national workforce in the 2011-2015 period was 24.2 %, a somewhat disappointing figure and reduced from the 24.6% of the late 1990s. The tendency to relegate women to the background is manifested even in innocuous ways such as possessing smartphones and gender bias, as was suggested by a CCDS report (according to the study, only 16% women have access to the internet compared to 58% men, as the internet is considered unsafe and inappropriate for women. Women are also handed down older phones without data access while men acquire smartphones.) Organisations like Feminist Approach to Technology have recognized the gap between women and access to technology, working to bridge the distance between women receiving education and developing skills in a fast digitalizing world. Education, employment, determining their interests in marriage, child birth and abortion and existing outside the ideas of beauty – there is still a long way for women to go before gender discrimination becomes a myth. Till then, let’s stay excited about our annual Women’s day tokens of appreciation!
(The author is a student of law with a penchant for human rights, the environment, travel, crime novels, 80s music and baking.)