March 8 is celebrated across the world as International Women’s Day. We, of course, do not have an International Men’s Day, because the need for one is not felt by a cantankerously male-dominated world! Since the beginning of last century there have been several demonstrations by women in western societies demanding equal status with their male counterparts. However, this day has been chosen for the fact that on March 8, 1917, women textile workers in St Petersburg (formerly Petrograd) took to the streets to ask for equal pay with men, a red letter occasion that witnessed the genesis of the Russian Revolution which transformed the course of humanity. It is indeed shameful and tragic that not much has changed for the fair sex in the century that followed and even today they have to raise their voice for equality, as the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world’, tellingly underlines. No doubt organizations like the UN touts this day as also celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women while highlighting the problems they face in day-to-day life as well as in the professional and domestic environment. That this year Covid-19 has exacerbated the problem is more in the nature of an afterthought, for women have perpetually been on the receiving end of social inequality, pandemic or no pandemic!
It is only in some advanced societies that women have achieved a degree of success in wresting decision-making powers in politics or business. But even there the stereotype of women being merely ‘homemakers’ endures and, in real numbers, their participation in decision-making remains imbalanced. Sadly, gender parity has not reached its desired level in enlightened democracies like India, where heinous practices like female foeticide, laws against so-called love jihad, or trials by khap panchayats, etc., persist to negate advances made in educating the girl child. The situation in certain blatantly male-dominated societies, in particular Islamic ones, is even direr for women, as the jailing of activists fighting for women equality in Saudi Arabia reveal. Terrorist groups such as the Islamic State or the Taliban consider women to be no more than chattel, but even in slightly more progressive countries like the UAE they are subjected to harsh restrictions. The overall picture can hardly be called rosy for women’s equality and it would take time and patience on the part of activists to attain the sought for goal. However, it has been shown that, given a level playing field, women excel men at many spheres, including sagacious decision-making at senior strata of governments. Such a phenomenon gives rise to the hope that in a more enlightened world of the future, women would not only be equal to men, but perhaps even surpass them!