By now, there can hardly be anyone who is able to read these lines in English and who doesn’t know that International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on March 8. In recent years, there has been enough awareness activities happening around this day and, with ample media coverage of the events, many important issues related to women are being talked about.

Though there are now open discussions on the status of women in our society, there has been little change in the conditions faced by women.

This makes it imperative that the importance of days such as International Women’s Day needs to be highlighted again and again until things actually improve for women around the world and in our own country.

The International Women’s Day is celebrated globally to recognise the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Many activities are conducted with regards to this and to mark a call to action for accelerating gender parity.

Officially recognised by the United Nations in 1977, International Women’s Day has its roots in the activities of labour movements at the turn of the twentieth century in North America and across Europe.

The first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February, 1909, in honour of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against working conditions. However, the fact that Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8th is strongly linked to the women’s movements during the Russian Revolution (1917).

Each year, the United Nations assigns a theme to this day, to draw focus upon a particular area related to women’s rights and promotes activities related to it. This year’s theme is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world,” which ‘celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain,’ according to the official UN website.

Understandably, women have been greatly affected in the last one year during the global coronavirus pandemic. Already facing disparity in salaries and job opportunities, they have been hit harder financially during the economic crisis faced by most nations and businesses. It is a sad fact that while playing a major role in battling this pandemic as front-line and health sector workers, scientists, doctors and caregivers, “they get paid 11 per cent less globally than their male counterparts”, according to the UN. Data collected for analysis of Covid-19 task teams from 87 countries found only 3.5 per cent of them had gender parity.

The unprecedented crisis felt the world over in the last one year has also brought to fore women’s better leadership qualities in times of crisis, with better response to Covid-19 being seen in places where women were in the commanding position. For instance, in New Zealand, the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern took immediate and strong actions to control and stop the spread of this contagious virus with very positive results. And it also showed that taking strong measures, such as closing down international borders and imposing strict lockdown does not hurt the economy too badly in the long run as things can open up soon after with people getting back to normal life.

In other areas too, activism and efforts by women have been leading to positive actions and results. It is also being seen that younger women are now emerging as major agents of change and doing constructive actions to help combat issues not just related to women, but global issues such as climate change, poverty and social justice. Women under 30 and many teenagers are using their voices, especially through social media and other forums, to bring attention to issues that were once only vaguely whispered about in conferences and boardrooms. And a lot of men have had to listen and take note of these voices, such as Greta Thunberg, the teen Swedish environmental activist who is internationally known for challenging world leaders to take immediate action against climate change.

Earlier girls had role models in the form of a few older women, some of whom were able to reach leadership positions due to their privileged family connections and backgrounds, and pioneers who had to work extra hard to break the glass ceiling. Now younger girls are taking control of their lives and making an impact in the world around them through the unique opportunities offered by the digitalised world today, that makes communication and access to services faster and easier. This is why more females are venturing into entrepreneurship from a younger age to become financially stable and independent.

However, the ground realities in third world countries such as ours, hasn’t changed much. Many women, even in educated and urban households, do not have a say in matters related to themselves, be it their own health, education and marriage. In fact, equal rights to men is a farfetched dream for many, what they wish for is just that the injustice and suppression they face should stop.

Things will not change in the real sense by just focusing on women and girls — what is needed is to focus on the men and boys, making them treat women in a better way. It is said that don’t teach your daughters to be careful, teach your sons to be respectful. So the basic need is not just to make women aware of their rights, but to make men understand that they have to let women have these rights.

So on this Women’s Day, why don’t we all look at our mindset and behaviour, and see what we can do as individuals to stop the injustice, discrimination and bias that is so rampant against women. Why don’t we start from our own homes? Let us look at our own behaviour toward other females in our family, if we are women; and the males should ask themselves if they are really treating their mothers, sisters, daughters and wife in the right way?

Published in Dawn, Young World, March 6th, 2021

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