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International Women's Day

International Women's Day is being celebrated all over the world now. But, not even a century ago, things were different. Very different. What women now take for granted, had to be fought for, inch by inch; right by right. Ever since the caveman days, when Man learnt to walk erect, women were subjugated. Going by the intimidating environment, perhaps, under those circumstances, Man, the hunter, who was always on the prowl in search for food, was better physiologically equipped to handle the hostile outer world. And woman, given her fragility, took care of the family. Over the centuries, this must have become ingrained in the genes that the male of the species, Homo sapiens, started to dominate over the female.

With progress, Man started to gain more and more control over the environment and he moved out of the caves and settled down near river banks, learnt agriculture and farming and, once again, found that, biologically, he was better suited for the kind of strenuous physical activity that these occupations required. Fire had already been discovered and the woman found herself tending to the hearth and home. The respective roles Man, the provider, and Woman, the homemaker, seemed established.

By this time, fueled by impunity, Man started to treat women as a part of his property just like cattle, a house and personal belongings perhaps ranked a bit higher, but only chattel, nevertheless. It was but natural that in the absence of any social interaction amongst themselves, women, in a collective sense, never could fend for themselves, or try to redeem themselves. This situation continued to prevail for several centuries with women being nothing else but glorified slaves in a world of male domination.

It was left to the United States of America to pave the way for the emancipation of women. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a pioneer leader who fought for women's rights in America in the 19th century. The daughter of a judge, she studied law, noticed the discrimination against women in the laws then in force and devoted her life to changing these laws. Susan B. Anthony’s involvement with public sentiment started early with her struggle for the abolition of slavery in the early 19th century. While working as a teacher in rural communities she came to realize the hardships faced by women and also the injustice of their position in the eyes of the law. Married women had no right to their property or earnings. She became aware that in order to improve the lot of women, firstly they would need the right to vote. She interpreted that the Constitution of the United States of America did not forbid women from voting and exercised her franchise in 1872. She was arrested and fined $100/- which she refused to pay. Interestingly, the authorities did not pursue the matter. She died in 1906, but her efforts bore fruit when, in 1920, women eventually did get to vote for the first time. In this, the United States of America was not the first country to do so. In fact, it was the fifth. New Zealand in 1893 was the first. We are now in the dawn of the 21st century, yet as far as women in some Middle Eastern countries and Liechtenstein are concerned, it is as if the clock has stood still for a few centuries! They are still being subjugated by the males.

Somehow, after the victory in getting the right to vote, the women's movement seemed to have lost its momentum until the 1960s when, once again in the United States of America, women woke up to the realization that they were still second class citizens being discriminated against in a male dominated world. Job opportunities, pay at par with men for similar work, etc., were still being denied to them. The Women's Liberation Movement got under way and gained some rightful benefits for women in general. The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 passed in The United States of America conferred equal job opportunities and equal pay for men and women. However, the Amendment proposal to the U.S. Constitution banning all discrimination on the basis of the sex of an individual was defeated in 1982. Though on paper, these goals have been achieved, reality speaks differently. If we consider the top jobs in both business and in the government, the number of women occupying such posts is a pathetic minority. As is the popular view, it would be easier for a non-white man to become the President of the United States of America than it would be for a white woman! The business world has coined the term 'glass ceiling' for the Number One spot in a company's hierarchy denoting that a woman can only see through it and can never hope to penetrate it to occupy that position.

The world of International Politics is no different. With perhaps the sole exception of Golda Meir, founder member and former Prime Minister of Israel, all the others, like Indira Gandhi, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Chandrika Kumaratunga, Begum Ershad, Sheik Hasina, Benazir Bhutto, etc., have all been able to reach the top because of their fathers, brothers, husbands or mentors basically because of the men folk that they were associated with. The fact that they were able to consolidate their positions speaks volumes of their abilities, but the initial breakthrough would, most certainly, have been denied to them, if it were not for the male connection.

As it were, the world has become a safer place, and the environment is not intimidating any more. The quest for food does not involve aggressiveness and so the role of provider for the family is no longer an exclusive male preserve. In these days of 'double-income' families, women have also been going to work. ‘House husbands,’ the male equivalent of housewives, a term that would have raised a few eyebrows till recently, are no longer a curiosity. The work in the kitchen, the housework and the laundry are now jobs that both spouses share just like bringing home pay packets at the end of the month. There is no dispute that, over the years, women have been able to achieve greater equality, but their journey is not over yet. Till every woman is able to hold her head up, till every girl child is welcomed in every home, till every woman can venture out in this world sure that she will not be deprived of her rightful entitlement, the job is not over Yet. In some places, it is yet to begin. - Sonali (Bhihar)

 


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