Is International Women's Day working?


Child brides, female foeticide, genital mutilation: what has changed in 100 years?

An Indian protestor holds a placard during a protest against January's gang rape and murder of a student, in New Delhi.

An Indian protestor holds a placard during a protest against January's gang rape and murder of a student, in New Delhi. Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN

We celebrate International Women's Day amid the horrific attacks on women in various countries, not least the rape and abuse of a young student in Delhi, India, and a rape and a shooting in South Africa. After these horrendous incidents, it is good to see the massive demonstrations by young people and the extensive media coverage. As a result of this awareness, many countries produced startling statistics of rape and abuse of women.

Clearly the world continues on a path of patriarchal domination. Yet this year marks 102 years since the first organised Women's Day demonstrations were held and marks the 36th anniversary since the United Nations declared March 8 as International Women's Day in 1977.

While commercialisation of the day has led to women being given treats and presents, one needs to remember that the origin of this day was to draw attention to the need for equal status of women. But a century later very little has changed.

Spanning the various communities, we see major issues such as genital mutilation, female foeticide, child brides, and stigmatisation of widows, divorcees and rape victims. In these societies women are regarded as either a burden or a commodity. Because of this low status, women are saddled with the unrewarded, unrecognised work as housewives and mothers, and suffer the sexual demands of their partners regardless of their own feelings. Women are expected to obey any demands made by the men in their lives. To entrench this position, girls' access to education is denied in some societies.


Yes there are many today who are able to access jobs formerly regarded as male jobs and have made a success of it. Women have the vote internationally. In terms of social status, however, women in many societies continue to suffer many indignities. It is these indignities that need to be dealt with vigorously not just on the 8th of March but throughout our lives until we can say that the nature of our society has indeed changed.

But undoubtedly to get to that situation we need to work hard on education. The International Centre of Nonviolence in Australia and South Africa, with the support of educational institutions and governments, can begin to put together new content that will ensure that young people are able to make the necessary changes to create a social order that will accord respect and dignity to women.

Such a society will be attained when housework, rearing children and caring for the aged at home becomes recognised as an essential service and is accorded the honour and dignity that work outside the home is given. Then we can say that International Women's Day has achieved its purpose. Until then I urge all those who believe in equality to come out and demonstrate against the status quo.

Ela Gandhi is a South African-based activist and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi.

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