International Women’s Day

March 8 comes, March 8 goes. Political parties and civic society groups observe International Women’s Day in business as usual fashion. The basic issue of how to empower women remains unanswered. On the eve of International Women’s Day UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that ‘global backlash against women’s rights is threatening and in some cases reversing progress in developing and developed countries alike’. International Women’s Day was officially recognised by UN in 1977. This year’s theme was investing in women and girls to accelerate toward equality. But legal equality for women, as per UN’s own admission, could take 300 years to achieve. Socialists and liberals have been debating the Women Question since the days of August Bebel only to see no serious progress even in the 21st century. As for the communist left in India celebration of Women’s Day is one more ritual like May Day. And their discourses mostly hover around Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kolontai or Rosa Luxemburg while remaining vague about the liberation of toiling women in the broader domain of class struggle. Talking about class struggle loudly, dismissing feminism as elitist culture is not going to liberate women who are doubly oppressed in patriarchal society.

Surprisingly, while duelling on women’s rights UN Secretary General, did hardly talk about the plight of women and girls who are being forced to live in hell in war zones. In every conflict, violent or not- so- violent, sexual violence against women is being extensively used as a weapon. It is more powerful than missiles to destroy a population psychologically and physically. How the wars in Ukraine and Palestine have devastated the lives of thousands of women and their families beggars description. If there is any hell on the earth it is in Gaza. Palestinian women don’t know how to observe the International Women’s Day. Nor do they get any assurance from the international community that their lives would be better any time soon as there is no immediate possibility of a cease-fire in Israel-Hamas war. Some Israeli women too are facing equal brutality. A report by a UN team of experts released on March 4 said they found “clear and convincing information” that some hostages were subjected to sexual violence and that such violence may be on-going. The UN report came four days before the International Women’s Day. They were brutalised in captivity. As the war continues despite international outcry for peace and immediate cease-fire hostages will rot in detention.

It has been four months since the Israel-Palestine war began. The civilian death toll from Israel’s retaliation in Gaza has climbed to more than 30,000--70 percent are women and children. In truth more non-combatants have been killed in less than four months in Gaza than in nearly two years of war in Ukraine, where the civilian death toll only recently exceeded 10,000.

Nearer home is there any point for the women of Manipur to celebrate International Women’s Day? They have not yet recovered from the shock they received during the ethnic riots and police high-handedness. Many of them are still homeless, trying hard to get back what they have lost–peace, dignity and mutual trust.

The sexual abuse suffered by Dalit women in BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh is routine. There was a barbaric incident in 2020 when a 19-year-old Dalit girl also in Hathras was gang-raped and her body was hurriedly cremated by the police against the wishes of her family. In most cases similar incidents of violence against women are dubbed as suicides and, cases are dismissed without hearing. Culprits are seldom brought to book.

 Women from the marginalised section of society face a higher risk of gender and caste-based violence at the hands of the men from dominant castes who use sexual violence as a tool to exercise their traditional social and economic authority. Women’s Day or any other Day, these poor women are not aware of their civil, social, economic and cultural rights they are entitled to. They live in the largest democracy of the world, having no democratic rights otherwise guaranteed under the Constitution.

Wives and mothers of protesting farmers joined the movement on International Women’s Day to highlight the legitimate struggle for the welfare of thousands of women farmers who toil on farms, enduring sunburns to sustain their livelihoods. On International Women’s Day they want the government to recognise their labour contribution.


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Vol 56, No. 39, Mar 24 - 30, 2024