An IIPM Initiative
Monday, November 18, 2019




Woman – She may have broken through the glass ceiling, but the shards still prick at times. Urvashi Butalia – feminist, historian, author and co-founder of Kali for Women, and now Director, Zubaan Books – traces the struggle of women’s movements since March 8, 1908, when thousands of women marched through the city of New York demanding equal rights.
PAGE FOR THE PAGE: GAURI PRATAP SINGH | Issue Dated: March 9, 2008
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ON AN EVEN KEEL... For women across the world, March 8 is a day to celebrate, reflect, sometimes to despair, but a day to be noted nonetheless. Over a hundred years ago, on this day, factory women struck work and asserted their rights as women. Today, in different parts of the world, the day has come to mean different things. In India, groups get together to take stock of the women’s movement and to see if there is cause to celebrate, or indeed if they need to renew their campaigns.

In the last few years, the issues that have formed the subject of women’s day campaigns have included the right to shelter, the right to a life free from violence, the right to gender-just laws, and the right to a life of dignity. The question that arises is: why should these cause so much fear among the powers that be?

If International Women’s Day (IWD) is a day of importance for women, it is also a day on which questions are often raised about women and about feminism. Was this not the day on which feminists burnt bras, we are asked, and the tone is usually critical and shocked? Yet even an ordinary internet search will show that bra burning was never an essential part of the women’s movement worldwide. For one, women are too practical to burn garments that are so expensive and for another; the symbolism of the protest is equally well served by other gestures. So, several years ago in Pakistan, activists of the Women’s Action Forum burned their dupattas, identifying them as a symbol of oppression and to this day, many of them refuse to wear dupattas. In other parts of the world, women struck work. The interesting thing is that similar protests by other groups do not receive the kind of criticism that women’s groups have received and continue to receive.

This is also because of another chronic condition, and that is the fear of feminism. I cannot remember the number of times I have been asked if I’m a feminist. Don’t you think, I’m often told, that it is a western philosophy and that feminists are home wreckers? And my question is: why should people fighting for equality and dignity of one half of humanity be seen as home wreckers? Further, hundreds of thousands of Indian women would not like to call themselves feminist, and yet, their entire lives are devoted to fighting for women’s rights. Similarly there are many, like me, who have no hesitation in acknowledging ourselves as feminist for, as Shakespeare famously asked, what’s in a name?

So no matter what we call it, or that we sometimes celebrate and sometimes grieve on this day for what the world is doing to its women, the fact of the matter is, this is one day that reminds the world of the contribution of women, and tries to nudge the world’s conscience so that this reminder becomes a constant state of knowledge rather than an occasional jogging of an unreceptive memory.

It’s a day on which the world needs to understand that women too are human and need to be appreciated – this isn’t really such a difficult lesson, and I have always wondered why it should be so hard to learn!
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017