Every year, on this day we all talk and write and declaim and pontificate about how celebrating International Womens’ Day is a way of empowering women, putting them on the path to health, wealth, happiness and success.
Most of the writing has been by, from and about women who have made it (to a greater or lesser extent). But is it really going to change the lives of zillions (the majority) of women who are at the bottom of the pile and whose lives are one, unending litany of subjection, subjugation, poverty, misery and eternal grind? Are we really talking about and talking to these women who can’t read and write, who are chained to hard-scrabble existences and whose only objective is to survive? Barely.
Is it about my part time maid whose alcoholic husband committed suicide two months before her second daughter was born leaving her to support two little girls (she even marked the bastard’s first death anniversary), an alcohol soaked father who takes money from her to get his daily fix, a developmentally challenged sister and a worthless no-good brother who doesn’t give her one penny to support the family?
Is it about the bai I had in Bombay who looked 60 at the age of 35, whose daughter supported a drunk, wife beater of a husband and three children?
Is it about women who can’t get a ration card, ID card, a passport, a loan or any other document without giving the name of her husband or her father – because she is deemed not to be a valid individual without some kind of man in her life?
Is it about women who endure years of mental, physical and emotional abuse from men who do all that because they can do it… and get away with? Like the young, 24-year-old girl who was hanged from a fan, 20 days after giving birth to a son, by her husband and in-laws who tried to pass it off as a suicide. This happened in front of my eyes. When I got all hot and bothered about it, I was told by someone in the NGO business that these things happened on a daily basis and calling the cops would have zero effect. The cops came, saw, arrested the perpetrators and let them out on bail the next morning. End of story. Zero effect.
Ok. You could well ask that if I was so concerned about this why was I not doing something about it? Good question.
Because I am trying to keep body and soul together in a man’s world. Have been for over 34 years.
Having said that, I will say that I have kept body and soul together – more or less in moderate comfort. I did bring up two boys on one salary. I did keep my head up with some dignity and pride, I think! Men and women have often said how much they admire what I have done, achieved, etc., etc. But why? Why is what I did so remarkable? Would any of what I have done be considered remarkable if done by a man? Men, after all, do it on a regular and daily basis… And could I have done better, been more successful? Perhaps. But I will never know if it’s because I was discriminated against by the men around me or because I didn’t try hard enough…
And by the way, a man I knew quite well said at that time that I was not feminine enough for him to get emotionally involved with me. The conclusion here seemed to be that since I was hacking it in a man’s world I was not really much of a woman!
The day women can do what they need and want to do without there being special quotas, reservations, pity, charity and cooing noises of admiration and sympathy will be the day women will have really made it.
The day a Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Indra Nooyi, Naina Lal Kidwai, Chanda Kochar or any other high profile woman, is lauded for doing what she has done as a person and not a woman…
Or without it being thought remarkable that Katherine Bigelow (a woman) gets the Oscar for best director for the first time in 66 years!
The day we can reach the top of any profession without there being a glass ceiling… because it won’t exist… When we achieve anything and everything we strive for without being admired for doing so because we are women… When we can bring up a family without ever having to wonder whether to choose between marriage and a career…
That will be the day we will have achieved true equality.
Not so today…When a hard working woman has to abide by society’s norms and grieve over the death of a shiftless husband, hand over her pay packet because her husband says so (yes, this happens with educated, liberated women who won’t spend a rupee of their own salaries without the husband’s say so!), give in to the demands of her sons, brothers and other male relatives about what to wear, what to say, how to behave, who to make friends with… the constraints are endless, the chains unbreakable.
And, most important, be put to death before she can be born and heard…
Today I read what a well known author and socialite wrote about her mother: how women of her Mother’s generation didn’t need a power job, she didn’t have to flash her myriad achievements and designer clothes to define her identity; how she radiated happiness, peace and well-being and that she didn’t give her children quality time but gave them ALL her time; she remained a graceful fulfilled woman till the very end and that women of that generation were in a better space than we are…
Well, do we ever think to ask the women of that generation – our mothers and grandmothers – what their dreams and ambitions and wishes were? Did they hanker after anything other than bringing up children who excelled scholastically and husbands who were happy to leave the “little woman” behind while they sallied forth to fly, climb mountains, save lives, build bridges, put up towers of wealth, privilege and set up old boys’ clubs behind barricades erected to keeping out the women in their lives?
I know that my mother brought up four children successfully and kept a shining and well ordered house and home – and realized NONE of her dreams. When at the age of 55 or so, she took up fabric painting and batik, my father looked at her work and said: my God, I didn’t know you are so creative! This after spending 30 years of married life with a superlative chef and home maker. My blood boils!
I look forward to the day (hopefully in my life time) when International Women’s Day will not need to be marked in any way as it will be taken for granted every day… the way men do because really they know that every day is, and has always been, their day! We shall live in hope…and keep trying harder to make this a Woman’s World as well…