- UCL Diplomacy Society
Women’s Day 2021- More Power to you. By Prathamesh Jagtap.
I would begin and end this article with two very powerful stanzas from my favourite poem written by Maya Angelou - ‘Still I Rise’
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
On Women’s Day every year, messages clog the inbox. They offer tempting discounts in salons, on shoes, clothes and cosmetics, and even complimentary cocktails. Despite women organising seminars on finance, sexual harassment and health problems across the globe, tokenistic marketing threatened to reduce the day to hashtags and discounts.
The irony and history
On the International Women’s Day 2019 website, the partners included McDonald’s, Amazon and Oracle. McDonald’s is facing flak in the U.S. for failing to pay its largely female workforce the minimum wage, Amazon is reported to have a huge gender diversity problem, and Oracle is facing a civil rights suit that alleges female employees were paid on average $13,000 less per year than men doing similar work. All three were apparently in support of the 2019 campaign theme, ‘Better the balance, better the world’.
The irony of all this is particularly rich given that International Women’s Day has its origins in socialism. German socialist and feminist Clara Zetkin, who organised the first International Women’s Day, was a socialist first and a feminist next. In the magazine Die Gleichheit (Equality), Zetkin wrote in 1894: “Bourgeois feminism and the movement of proletarian women are two fundamentally different social movements.” Zetkin held that “bourgeois feminists” were not concerned with the conditions of working-class women who were fighting not only against men who sought to suppress them but also with men against a common oppressor, capitalism. Zetkin suggested in the Second International Conference of Socialist Women at Copenhagen in 1910 that Women’s Day be celebrated each year, the foremost purpose of which would be “to aid the attainment of women’s suffrage”.
In Russia, protests erupted on March 8, 1917, against World War I and brought down the Tsarist Empire. The new government gave women the right to vote. International Women’s Day was thus a day of resistance and demand. The reason the UN observed the day only decades later, from 1975 onwards, was because the Americans were aware of — and wary of — its origins in socialism.
Given the huge inequality in the treatment and payment of women workers, and with labour conditions being unfriendly to women, it is important to ask what women really want on this day: roses or reforms?
Instead of celebrating women, companies would do well to reflect on how they treat their women: is their pay on a par with men? Are sexual harassment cells in place and do they function? Are there crèches at workplaces? And what about the informal sector, the working-class women, who are not represented by “bourgeois feminists”? How do we consolidate various women’s movements across classes and castes?
In an increasingly unequal world, March 8 gives us the opportunity to ask ourselves how much more is to be done and how it is to be accomplished. Instead of allowing a day rooted in protest to be taken over by consumerism, women could mobilise around specific issues — better sanitation facilities and better wages — and make sustained demands for effective change in their conditions.
An appeal to every reader to reflect upon the following.
The harsh and unfortunate reality is that every woman on this planet has faced some kind of discrimination at least once in her lifetime. Every woman has a past. Some were physically abused. Some had violent parents. Some had pubertal issues. Some had sexual abuse as a child from their own family members. Some had messed up love stories. Some had been forced into sex in the name of love. Some had been drugged. Some were date raped. Some had been viciously photographed on bed. Some had been blackmailed by their ex-boyfriend. Some were in an abusive relationship. Some had menstrual problems. Some had a broken family. Some had a divorce. Some had an obesity issue. Some had financial droughts. Some had drug or alcohol addiction. Some had suicide attempts.
If you see a woman, who went through any of these but had already wiped her tears, tied her hair up, masked her sorrows with a divine smile, stood tall and strong, started walking towards her future because she still has some hope left inside her and has not given up on the concept of love that still exists in this world, do not stab her with her past. Do not confront her. Do not slap her with more abuse. Give way for her and walk beside her. Maybe hold her hands and walk for a while. You'll know how sweet that soul is and how strong her hopes are! You'll be amazed at how she carries herself after all her energy has been sucked out.
She need not always be only the woman next door or from a different home. She could be your own friend, your own sister, your own girlfriend, your own wife, even maybe your own mother.
Do not judge her by her past. Gift her the peaceful future that she deserves. Hold her hands against the world, which knows only to judge. Give her the love that she always yearned for. The four lines below sum up the irony, history and reality of every single woman in this world…
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.