Woman’s day! What does that mean to you?


I was invited by a friend, director of an AIDS hospice, to speak to a room full of women on Women’s day, some years back. I wasn’t the intended speaker, Sean was. I was just a tag along. After Sean spoke, the director of the hospice, our friend, came towards me with a big smile on her face. “Say something. As a woman, to all these women!” she said. With cold clammy hands and sweat dripping down my shirt, I walked towards the lectern, my mind racing. I was the undeserving cynosure of at least 50 pair of eyes. By accident of birth, I was on the other side of the lectern. My family’s expectations from me were degree, job, good marriage, a happy life, in that order. They worked hard to get that for me. I didn’t have to struggle to achieve anything. The women sitting in front with hopeful faces, however, were tested by fire. Former sex workers, rape victims, wives of HIV positive men, who unknowingly carried the deadly virus, paying a hard price for their errant husbands’ vices, former drug users. Poverty, lack of education, and squalid living conditions led them to desperate measures. Yet they did not give up the battle to have a shot at a better life. They were fighting tooth and nail, they were staying afloat, they were gasping and struggling, yet holding on. Despite their sickness, they were trying to carve out a decent life for themselves, and some, for their HIV positive children. So that is what I told them. I told them they were inspirations to me, to be a better person, a better mother, a better daughter, a better wife. I vowed, like them, I would never give up, no matter how hard the going gets. From them I learned never to disregard or take for granted the chance that I got in life just because of an accident of birth.

My grandmother studied till the 10th standard. My mother married a man of her choice in her first year of college. She finished her graduation when I was six years old. I, however, was expected to not only finish college but study further, get a job and then think of marriage. There has been a linear progression among the women in my family. That is symbolic of the state of women throughout the world. There has been progress, definitely. But has our gender found equal footing with men? Not yet. We are a work in progress, we are still paving the highway to reach our destination – equality. Many are hard at work, some are, perhaps, way back in line but they are moving – forward. Women’s Day celebration bothers many enlightened women. This whole concept of Woman’s Day irks me too. Me, a privileged, respected, somewhat enlightened woman living in an equal partnership with a man. The history of Woman’s day doesn’t reek of discrimination though. Instead, it represents the unity of the working women. According to Wikipedia, International Women’s Day

“Started as a Socialist political event, the holiday blended in the culture of many countries, primarily Eastern Europe, Russia, and the former Soviet bloc. In some regions, the day lost its political flavor, and became simply an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. In other regions, however, the original political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations runs strong, and political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.”

I personally don’t want to have a day dedicated to my gender. I, and many others like me, don’t feel inferior to the other gender in any way and dedicating a day for women is actually demeaning. It is like pointing out that you are weak, it is patronizing and as I said before, it reeks of gender inequality. But I am not one of those multitudes who are struggling against social stigma or religious conservatism. I am not the girl whose mother tells me it is a sin among their ‘beradari’ (clan) to send a girl child to school. Only boys are worthy of education. A girl child is only good for marriage – sold, in other words, at a steep price. I am not the woman who is getting beaten up by her husband every night in his drunken stupor because she fell asleep before he came home. Celebrating Women’s Day by buying a Hall mark card is not going to help the sweet girl who swept my house with her mother or the woman who hid her scar the next morning, accepting the abuse as her fate. But raising awareness about their condition might help them. Wishing other women ‘Happy women’s day’ on Facebook, for me, is completely meaningless. How about we make a resolution on this day to champion a cause that is close to our heart. Maybe sponsor the education of the daughter of our domestic help, or her son, for that matter? How about teaching the children of sex workers so they can break out of the vicious cycle? How about volunteering at a women’s shelter, how about donating money to a reputed Non Government Organization (NGO) who work towards women’s empowerment? Why not be the change that we want to happen instead of being an armchair analyst and either condemning Women’s Day or doing mere lip service by wishing another woman ‘Happy woman’s day’. What does Happy Woman’s Day mean anyway? Should we be happy that we are struggling and working hard to be counted as equals – like a world-wide sorority, working towards a common cause? Should we be happy that a few of us lucked out and got ahead of the game? Are our sister in remote parts of Africa, Latin America, Asia happy that they are part of this sorority? Do they even know?

I apologize if this blog seems preachy or didactic. That is not the intention. What right do I have to tell the world what they should do on this day? None, whatsoever. Sean and I make our meager contribution to women’s cause and other cause that are important to us and keep the faith that every little bit counts. I only want to share some ideas on what I think celebration of Women’s Day should be. I am fortunate to know so many people who are working hard and dedicating their time and energy in empowering women by providing education, healthcare, by helping them start cooperatives and little businesses. I have seen some of the fruits of their labor and have been amazed and humbled by these workers’ tenacity and relentless desire to make a change in another’s life. They talk less and work more. They motivate me to do my share in helping another – like trying to sponsor the education of a young woman of limited means. She didn’t want to continue her education so I put that money in her bank account so she could have a nest egg when she went into marriage. She is happy and expecting her first child. I hope one day she will use the money towards the education of her child. Today I made a resolution to help a woman who tried to kill herself by setting fire on her body because she couldn’t suffer her husband’s abuse anymore. She lived, but badly scarred. She is twenty years old, she hardly ever goes out and never takes the cover off her face to hide her scars and her shame. I will write about her and ask for your advice about how to go about helping her. I don’t need your money just your thoughts, a collective brainstorming of sorts.

Celebrating Women’s day is important I think. A day to raise awareness of the struggle that many women face everyday in any sphere of her life. Unfortunately, some women begin their struggle right in their mother’s womb. A struggle to live. At the same time, I hope and pray that during my daughter’s lifetime there will be no need to celebrate a day dedicated to her gender. And I tell her and her brother, whenever the occasion arises, that both of them have equal rights to the air and the sunlight they receive. Hopefully they will pass on that message to their children. But right now, the majority of women all over the world are playing catch up. Although, changes have been made, yet anybody who does humanitarian assistance work will agree that lot needs to be done to bring women up to speed. Dedicating one day to women can actually make people pause and take notice.

Let us each vow on this Women’s day to do at least something. At least, reiterate again and again to our children, nieces and nephews, students and grandkids about respecting other individuals. Let us stop using demeaning words and phrases against women, against different races, against people who may be different from us. It is so easy to do. Let us just think before we speak. Let us think of the repercussions of our words on others. And eventually, one day, during our children’s life time, men will not feel the need to insert an iron rod inside a woman to ‘teach her a lesson’ because she spoke out against wrong doing.

Lets keep the faith. It can happen.

Moving on.


On December 16th, 2012, a young woman boarded a public bus in New Delhi, India with friend after a late night movie show. Six people on the bus brutalized her beyond belief and threw her down the moving bus once they were finished with her. Her friend was beaten up and left to die. She clung on to life despite the odds – broken, mutilated, ravaged, brain-dead, but alive, breathing. She succumbed to her injuries a few days ago, on December 28th, 2012, after fighting desperately to cling on. Her body simply gave up.

Her fate and death stirred India into a huge protest against the indignities that women suffer and nudged the conscience of the whole world regarding the general attitude towards women, universally. Candle light vigils, marches with placards, protests against politicians and lackadaisical policies, accepting responsibilities that we all failed her, made it amply evident that people were not going to let this one go easily. This heinousness of the crime touched a raw nerve in the psyche of the nation. The fact that rape happens and goes unreported were brought to the forefront and discussed.

The bright young woman, a medical student, whose identity has been kept a secret, was given different names as movements and protests started against what she suffered – Nirbhaya (fearless one), India’s Braveheart, Amanat (treasure), Damini, Daughter of India. I know not if the woman was fearless. I am sure she was an Amanat, treasured by her parents, her family, ones who loved her. There have been no incidents cited that prove she was seeking to make a social change that night. She was a young woman, studying to become a doctor, she was full of possibilities, and she wanted a fun night out with her friend. She didn’t go out that night to become a martyr so people in India and the world could be shaken out of their complacency to do something about gender equality. She is a victim of a grievous crime, l don’t know why she is being called India’s Braveheart, but no matter.

What must have gone through her mind when this assault on her began, I wonder. Fear, first and foremost. Confusion, bewilderment, agony – ‘Why are you doing this to me? I am a human like you. You are hurting me so bad!’ Then she must have lost consciousness at some point, or at least I fervently hope she did because just the thought of the pain the men inflicted on her makes my skin crawl in horror.

Her death and the brutality done upon her opened the third eye of the nation – dare I hope? Will the women who are being subjected to rape, both marital and otherwise, and other form of indignities, garner enough strength to come forward with the tale of their woes and hope to be believed and vindicated?

And I wonder what led the six men to behave so cruelly towards another human? Was it alcohol? What did they suffer in their lives to become so dissociated with simple empathy? How much pain did they endure so they were capable of committing such unfathomable act of cruelty on another human? The men were from a slum in South Delhi, I hear. Does economics have any part to play in crimes such as these? Does education? The answer is no. Jessica Lal was murdered by the son of a minister. The wealthy kill and get away, the poor get caught – that is the only part economics play (Jessica Lal’s killer was caught, however)! And education? What is education in the true sense of the word? Does a degree from prestigious educational institutions make one truly educated enough to believe in human equality? It does not. Unfortunately, female infanticide happens in homes of doctors, professors, lawyers more than in the homes of folks without degrees from college. Aamir Khan, the renowned actor of India, did research for his reality show Satyameva Jayate and came up with the statistics that the rate of female infanticide still happening in the homes of wealthy and ‘educated’ is, in reality, much higher than the lower middle and poorer section of society. True enlightenment comes from opening one’s mind to accept, respect and value another. Rote learning doesn’t make one educated.

Enough has already been said, written, talked about women’s right. Many have voiced their opinions on hanging the rapists. I won’t go into that debate. I don’t have a solution to what will stop rapes right away. But I do think it depends on how we nurture and bring up our sons and daughters. Our actions today will determine what kind of society the next generation will create. First lesson they need to learn today is mutual respect. I still hear comments like ‘Don’t throw like a girl’ to teach a son athletic prowess or “Go wear a bangle and sit in the house’ to show a lack of courage in a male. As long as mentalities such as these exist, women will not be considered an equal to her counterpart.

What does woman’s equality mean, anyway? Men and women are different, physically and mentally. There is no denying that fact. But one needs to realize and respect that the contribution men and women make in society and in each other’s live are EQUALLY important. The roles of men being the bread winners and women staying at home are not rigid anymore, that line has been blurry for a while now. When men accept and respect that and when women start believing that their contribution in the family and their role in society are equally important, we can hope for gender equality. That is a first step – respecting another and believing in oneself.

It is a new year. January is a month of hopefulness, it starts off with new resolutions, new hopes, new beginnings. It is a month which tells us to move on from the mistakes of the past and build on the future. And we will move on. But we will not leave behind the innocent little children of Sandy Hook Elementary school. We will not leave behind the young woman who was brutally raped and beaten with a metal rod and thrown out of the bus to die on December 16th in New Delhi. They are moving on with us. We need them to remind us that enough wrong has been done in 2012 and the years before. We need to right those wrongs. Their memories won’t let us get complacent and self-absorbed. Their fate will remind us that each of us are vulnerable and unless we work towards a change, our loved ones could suffer the same fate. My hope is 2013 sees at least baby steps in the right direction – towards gender equality, towards social equality, towards a progressive mindset, towards true enlightenment, towards rehabilitation and prosperity. These words sound lofty and idealistic, but I do believe we are moving in the right direction. The Sandy Hook Elementary School killings, brutal rape of the young woman, other unreported rapes and other killings are stumbling blocks to prevent the forward march. But the uproar, determination, empathy and rage from the world that arises over incidents such as these prove that we are not going to tolerate such acts and these will not stop us from moving on – for the better.