Women's Day

I am not a big supporter of days – Valentine’s day and Mother’s day and the like – I consider them hokey and made up. And the way that International Women’s Day has come to be represented in society and the media certainly makes it no less trivial – every brand ‘salutes’ women and then goes on to offer discounts for beauty and fashion products as if that would suffice to celebrate womanhood the world over. It is not a day to be ‘celebrated’ and certainly not with sales offers and free spa offers and mani-pedis, as if all we need to distract us from the gender imbalance of society is a few beauty treatments or a shopping outlet. And then the next day we can go back to business as usual!

International Women’s Day should be a day to remind us of the distance covered and the millions of miles to go before we sleep. It is a day on which, as members of society, and the many stakeholders, from government to corporations, political parties, entertainers, artists - we all need to reflect on the injustice done to 50% of the people who hold up the earth and think about what we can do to make it better. We need to have debates and critical conversations on how the needle can move. We need not only men to think differently but we need women to think differently, to stop accepting those rules of society that work better for one gender. It is a day on which we need to remind ourselves – We should all be feminists!

Since I’m going to miss being at a meaningful panel discussion organised by a friend, I thought I’d put down some of the thoughts swirling in my head around the issue of where have we reached and how far is there to go yet.

Firstly, though, we must recognize that I and many of my friends and family members are daughters of privilege. We were born to families that prized girls and boys equally. We were given the same opportunities and food and education that a boy would get. Our right to express our opinions, our freedom to be who we were, were more contingent on the texture of the family than our gender.  I have also been lucky and privileged to work at workplaces that never let my gender be a factor, one way or another. I was subject to the same expectations and judged by the same yardsticks as my male colleagues. As a result, I have always thought of myself as a person, just Priya, rather than as a woman.

I feel grateful for the extreme privilege that gender has not been a factor in my life. It has not shaped my identity, my choices in life, the expectations that people in my life have. And I recognize that this is a powerful and rare privilege that millions of women do not enjoy even today. And that’s why it’s a privilege.

Millions of girls, not just in poverty-stricken families but in educated, urbane ones, do not get their rightful share – be it of nutrition, opportunity, choice, agency, inheritance…Millions of women even today struggle to adhere to outdated, patriarchal notions of ‘their place’ in society, in families, with a medieval boundary to their role in the world. So many women are harassed or paid less or bump up against the glass ceiling all too early. Everyone, from rightwing political outfits in India to America, thinks they have the right to decide what we can and cannot do with our bodies. The outdated notions of honour and thus by contrast dishonour and revenge which are rooted in a woman’s body still permeate the world. The so-called self-appointed moral custodians of society around the world are far more busy judging women than looking inwards, because it comes much more easy. Survey after survey among both men and women proves that an easy notion of patriarchy is ingrained in millions of people across the globe, with attitudes frozen in time.

Just recently, the number of things that have had me frothing at the mouth range from the parents in Haryana who drugged and threw their teenage daughters into a canal because they suspected them of having boyfriends, Maneka Gandhi saying girls need to have curfew times at hostels because their hormones will run amuck otherwise, the Film Certification board which prevented the screening of a film because it depicted the sexual fantasies of women to the US government's decision to defund any NGO that talks about or offers abortion anywhere around the world to the hardliners tweeting rape threats to a 20 year old whose opinion they disagree with...the list is endless!

That doesn't include long-standing issues like the fact that a woman I know - a corporate CEO who earns an 8-figure salary - has to get up early and cook for her family before leaving for work because her in-laws won't eat food made by a cook. That someone once said proudly in a focus group that 'my husband is very supportive; he has no problem with me working as long as the house and kids are taken care of'. A scene from Dil Dhadakne Do hit the nail on the head when Priyanka Chopra's husband says proudly that his wife enjoys plenty of freedom because he allows her to have a career.

There are millions of miles of distance to be covered, and sadly this is true in every country (except perhaps the Scandinavian ones), to provide equity to 50% of the people who hold up the earth. The issue lies in the way we bring up our girls from day one, and the way we bring up our boys. Training girls to expect less, to grow up with the notion that they should know their place ( whatever that means) and that they must not get used to being pampered at home because once they get married, they will have to follow the rules of their in-laws - these attitudes are long past their sell-by dates. Raising girls to be the 'good girl', to be quiet and compliant and believe that to be liked is more important than being herself - it is ridiculous! Teaching boys that they are special, more powerful, raising them to expect to be waited upon hand and foot and teaching them that girls are inferior are equally outdated. Yet these attitudes prevail, in so many homes around the world!

And the sad part is that women as much as men propagate these regressive attitudes which are frankly good for neither gender. These attitudes are deeply ingrained not just in men but women, who either believe these are traditional or heritage values to be preserved, have given up thinking that these are too deep to be changed or are benefitting from following the status quo.

I would love for the day to come when I don’t feel uniquely privileged because of my upbringing. I’d love it if every girl in every country on earth could just take for granted her rights, her freedoms and her place in the sun, the way that boys do. I’d love it if the concept of gender were to become as insignificant a factor in shaping one’s life as the colour of one’s eyes. I'd love for the day to come when International Women's Day becomes redundant!






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