by Mareaya Fayaz
Women’s Day comes and goes. But are women really empowered across the board?
What about the sore contrasts between ‘empowered’ women and those fighting for rights
even to study! Never forget this question…
TUU aag mein ai aurat, zinda bhi jalii barson,
saanche mein har ik gham ke, chup-chaap dhali barson
– HABIB JALIB
There is no denying the endless sacrifices of a woman – for her home, children and family. She carries the strength of losing herself to give meaning to the world around her. Yet, she
continues to suffer from being voiceless. At least in some parts of our world. And she continues to need efforts and initiatives that uphold her identity. International Women’s Day is one such initiative.
The day is celebrated annually on March 8 to honour women worldwide for their contributions to society, economy, culture and politics. An emphasis is laid on advancing gender parity and establishing agendas to reach these targets. This objective is accomplished through the organisation of events, speeches and awareness initiatives.
But let it not be forgotten that even now, in the contemporary times and cultures, discrimination and gender inequity are still pervasive, and still, most times, women are the targets. International Women’s Day is observed to combat these gender biases and to raise awareness about gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence and abuse against women. It now serves as a platform for spreading knowledge and inspiring social
change. But the question here is have women been empowered? Has the bias been truly abolished?
Is she really empowered?
Last year I wrote an article on Women’s Day
titled – Aurat March For Afghan Women – which covered the Taliban’s policy towards women and how we cannot yet say that we are free in the truesense of the word since women in some parts of the world are still living under threat of being killed while asking for basic rights. Nothing has changed for them really. Recently, the UN Mission claimed that
Afghanistan’s new leaders had demonstrated an almost ‘singular concentration’ on enforcing laws that essentially lock the majority of women and girls within their homes. The Taliban have enacted harsh restrictions since capturing control despite initial pledges of a more moderate posture since the US and NATO forces were nearing the end of
their two-decade war in Afghanistan. Women are not allowed to work, study, travel alone, or even attend to parks or bathhouses. Girls are not allowed to continue their education past the sixth grade. Also, women are required to cover themselves from head to toe and are not permitted to work for domestic and international non- governmental organisations, which actually obstructs the distribution of humanitarian aid.
Last year, following Mahsa Amini’s death while in police custody, there have been ongoing civil disturbances and protests against the Iranian government since September 16 of 2022. Since then, female journalists in Iran have been targeted by the security forces and several women have been arrested for participating in the anti government protests. Iran’s Food and Drug Authority has directed pharmacies to require female staff members to wear the headscarf while at work. The good thing is that Iranian men have disapproved of the directive and supported their female coworkers by donning the headscarf. They also made fun of the Iranian government’s decree. Masih Alinejad, a journalist and activist from Iran, posted images of a few such men on Twitter last Tuesday.
As for India, last year, we saw scores of women protesting against the hijaab in colleges. After all, wherever you see, it is men sitting at high positions telling women how to dress, some telling them to wear the hijaab and some telling them to
remove it. This Women’s Day, I decided to ask a few women how empowered they really felt?
Do you feel empowered, dear woman?
Dr. Vaishali Sharma’s reply is straight: “Father,brother, husband, son and above all, the society – they all seem to decide my life’s course. I am a woman whose life is not her own. No, I don’t feel empowered”.
Priyanka Dogra, a research scholar, says: “All my life I have worked hard, hard enough to reach where I am. I feel I had to excel in my field and do better to get the respect I now enjoy. It is a good thing that now I am at a position that no man tries to ‘mansplain’ me anything. In that sense, I feel empowered”.
In the process of working on this write-up, I happened to meet a lady rickshaw driver in Jammu – the first time I have seen such a driver! When I asked this lady – Ranjeet Kaur – if she felt empowered, she told me that her husband was a truck driver and she was working to support him.
“I feel I should also participate fully in making a life for both of us”, she said.
That left me smiling and with a hope that a woman, if she chooses it, can play a big role in
empowering not only herself but the world around her. But when I look at the contrasts between such a reality and the reality of spaces where women are still fighting for basic rights, I guess there is much to work towards. And much before we can celebrate Women’s Day in its true essence. After all Muneer Niyazi famously said:
Shehr kaa tabdeel honaa, shaad rehnaa aur udaas;
raunaquein jitnee yahaan hain, auraton ke dam se hain!