Dr. Anand D Awootar PhD D.Litt,
Chairperson, Education Commission, Mouvement Patriotique

Interpretations of historical narratives are greatly influenced by the filters through which we understand and interpret our findings. Inherited views about women’s place, the language to be used, the dress code and hairdo seem to have been deposited in the marrow of our ‘enlightened civilisation’, itself in need of civility. It is unfortunate that the resonance of such an invented mindset which dominated the major part of humanity’s history, still echoes in certain parts of the world, resulting in gender discrimination in multiple forms: child infanticide, child marriage, verbal and physical violence, dowry violence, property rights, honour killings, sexual harassment, amongst others.

The struggle against such deep-seated prejudice is as timeless as it is timely and tiring, specially when half of humanity feels directly excluded and alienated from the normal behaviour patterns of society in different ways and for multiple awkward reasons. Not that all men are responsible for everything happening in women’s disfavour throughout the ages, since societal inherited thought pattern subsumes and overrides individual thoughts, behaviour and preferences. However, women’s struggle for gender equality will gain a new momentum the day men join the struggle with no selfish motive.

The reasons for celebrating the International Women’s Day are multiple: it may be for the re-writing of the historical script concerning women’s struggle, the re-reading of historical facts, remembering the sacrifices endured by early women pioneers like Rosa Parks, celebration of great achievements by the likes of Malala Yousafzai, Oprah Winfrey and Indra Nooyi, scoring of political mileage, or simply an occasion for reflection and resolution-making. That special day, however, should crop the wide heterogenous scene to reduce it to its essential ingredient: the importance of women.

For greater effect, women’s associations should themselves spearhead all struggle for gender equality and parity, crystallising their resolve into a powerful movement like those which successfully campaigned for women’s rights in Ethiopia, workers’ rights in Pakistan, not to mention the #MeToo movement. Unfortunately, some women’s associations worldwide often succumb to politicians’ siren-song, become shrewd short-term tacticians but poor long-term strategists by tucking their organisation to the coat tails of traditional political parties the inner circle of many of which are often accused to be anti-feminine incubators pampering the demon of gender bias.

The stance adopted by them becomes all the more deplorable at a time when the very structures of societies are in dire need of being re-built to provide greater gender equality and parity. Not coincidentally, politics has all along been structured by men. That is reflected in today’s societies, including countries headed by women who eventually play stereotyped ‘male roles’.

Closer to home, for any paltry reason, both male and female politicians of all stripes blabber, as part of a well-rehearsed mantra, that ‘this has been possible due to the vision of our Leader.’ Similarly, the International Women’s Day has been hijacked by our traditional political leaders who are now well-schooled at opening new portals of rhetoric on each occasion, and reducing all celebrations to a mere footnote through their usual fanfare:
powerful trade-union leaders have been thrust into irrelevance on Labour Day, religious leaders are reduced to being guests in their own religious functions through the speeches of political leaders who tend to vanish in their own verbal fog, socio-cultural leaders are down-graded to being political agents, and NGOs become well-behaved school children lest their financial umbilical cord gets severed for non-compliance. Similarly, events become a chance for traditional leaders to hijack any movement, an occasion to spew out pre-chewed promises, a reason to throw a symbolic bone here, another there, supposedly for women empowerment, an opportunity to unveil their own capacity to speak from both ends of their mouth while unabashedly wearing their Mona Lisa smile.

There is, however, a couple of opposition political leaders whose consistency and contributions on multiple issues both inside and outside of the House, are likely to make even their opponents weep with envy.

Fighting your own battle

Women’s associations stand to greater gains if they fight their own battle without being under the armpit of traditional party leaders who usually promise plenty of smoke but no gun.

If women parliamentarians functioning through the nods of their respective leaders, and the recent spate of ‘self-help’ female appointees in various institutions are any indication of what lies in store for the future, it will be futile to clamour for a mere increase in the number of women representation at the expense of more urgent and crucial women issues vying with one another for attention, namely:
1.Non-valorisation of the woman at home 
A large number of women, generally, invests enormously, spending a life-time slogging so that the husband and children may shine and provide wings to their dreams. Not unusually, the woman has to docilely absorb the verbal and physical lashings, accompanied by disparaging rhetoric in case a meal is late or is unlikely to satiate the alcohol-filled stomach.
2.Mothers, too, are no longer spared 
Of late, it has not been uncommon to come across press reports of verbal and physical assaults against mothers by their own progeny. As we know, the woman, like any human being, may not be perfect, but motherhood is. Motherhood is invariably an art, an embodiment of love and comfort, even amidst uncomfortably closed scenes of domestic dysfunction. Mothers ought to be ‘worshipped’ by virtue of mere ability to bear children which in itself is even considered by many to be a miracle.
3.Sexual harassment at the workplace 
The pervasiveness of sexual misconduct against female subordinates worldwide has assumed alarming proportions. Women workers often have to weather excruciating threats, lewd comments, opportunistic gropes, harassment, emotional and psychological violence which are becoming increasingly common. Powerful superiors often not only cross boundaries, but, worse, they also do not even seem to know boundaries exist.
4.Onslaught of social media 
The extreme vulnerability of some youngsters being entrapped by total strangers into online affairs and sextortions through unbridled use of social media is alarming. Such a trap is akin to a fisherman’s lure, appropriately called a hook. The romantic adventure thus generated gets fast unfolded into a kind of hypnotism too dream-like and dazzling to realise that once blind love is activated in vulnerable brains, it stays activated. Things then progress at dizzying speed, resulting in elopement, teenage pregnancy and premature marriage. Through youthful guilelessness, they hardly get to realise when exactly adolescence has flipped into adulthood for want of proper warning and adequate preparation through sex education.
5.Love at first sight, divorce at first fight 
The newly-minted unprepared couple soon gets embroiled into tensions arising from pre-marital over-promising and post-marriage struggle to figure out how they will manage. The set of romantic possibilities leads to a sobering verdict: verbal and physical violence which culminate into separation and eventual divorce.
6.Social delinquents 
Such divorce removes the safety net of social and emotional support, deprives children from divorced parents of an authentic childhood in which all sense of direction is lost. Not surprisingly, there ensues an outpouring of attention-grabbing atrocity tales, the open market becoming fraught with mounting perils through self-propelling, street-hardened youngsters. Thus, juvenile delinquency, violence, and theft perpetuate other rounds of vulnerability. Judging by the rate of divorce today, marriage as an institution is reminiscent of a dying business struggling to hold on to its dwindling share market. Therefore, education, pre-marital and post-natal counselling are other areas where women organisations should interest themselves.
7.Breast cancer and use of pesticides
Women associations would also be doing a great job if they took up the issue of pesticides and its increased incidence of breast cancer among women, as proved by growing scientific evidence. In so doing, they may convince concerned authorities to re-visit their policy on agriculture.
The problems facing women are too staggering to be solved by conventional standards of political logic as they go much beyond mere women representation in parliament. It is in everybody’s interest if men and women work seamlessly, stand together, point in the same direction instead of standing apart and pointing at each other. Each one needs the other inasmuch as a single chopstick on its own is unable to hold food.