“Women’s progress is human progress, and human progress is women’s progress” (Hillary Rodham Clinton). International women’s day has been celebrated for more than 100 years and substantial progress has been made in advancing equality for women, however, still the goals of gender equality and women’s empowerment are not fully achieved. In December 1977 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming a United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace. On March 9, IMA (India Mehila Association) and Mosaic, jointly organized a celebration in which over 400 Indo-Canadian women participated. The idea of the celebration was to promote dialogue and create awareness on issues that affect women today-JAGGO. International Women’s Day may not make any difference in the lives of women in India and developing countries, but it is a good occasion to take account of the successes and failures in the ongoing struggle for improving woman’s lot.
According to the experts, things cannot change much unless women are empowered. Economic independence is one way to do it, and an aggressive participation in governance is other Women have started taking part in politics and are making progress worldwide in this area. Presently, there are 17 countries with women as head of the government, head of the state or both. But still there are less than one in five women parliamentarian in the world, which is not a very encouraging statistic at this juncture of human development The World average of women in parliament stood at 19.5% in 2011, with Sweden and Finland toping the list with 42.5 %. It must be mentioned that a huge investment in the education, in these countries, is one of the factors for rise in women’s political activism. In OECD countries one can find more female students in colleges and universities than male. In the University of British Columbia there are 58 % female students doing research compared to 43% male. The women are gaining necessary tools for assuming empowerment and asserting powerful roles. Canada is a home to 17.4 million females belonging to 5,400 communities. Women are contributing significantly to the economic prosperity of Canada. However, a significant gap still exists in labour force participation rate, employment rate and income.
Once I wrote in the Vancouver Sun “do not sacrifice precious Canadian lives in Afghanistan-you cannot bring democracy there with force—, you cannot change the centuries old cultural traditions and hang-ups–“. In spite of a huge financial and human loss, the mindset of the people in position remains the same. President Karzai, endorsed the code of conduct issues by Ulema Council, council of clerics, and says that “women are secondary”-husbands can beat wives under certain circumstances, should not travel without a mail guardian, should not mingle with strange men in places such as schools, markets and offices. Karzai maintains that the statement did not call for restrictions on women but rather protected the standing of Afghan women. NATO countries have spent a huge human capital and financial fortunes for bringing democracy in those countries. Nothing has changed. A father, hailing from Afghanistan, still kills his three daughter along with his first wifer, in “honour killing” and says “he would do it again even if, God forbid, they hoist us on to the gallows—we accept it wholeheartedly
Let us briefly look at the situation in India. Crime against women has risen phenomenally. According to National Crime Records Bureau, registered cases of rape in 2003 were 15,847, and in 22,172 in 2010; kidnapping and abduction 6208 in 2003, and 29,795 in 2010; molestation 32,930 in 2003 and 49, 613 in 2010, to mention some. As mentioned by Ravinder Kaur, a Sociologist from IIT Delhi, female expectancy in India is higher than that of males (63.2 for males and 66.4 for females in 2010), fewer women die at childbirth, maternal mortality declined, the literacy rate rose by 6.9 per cent for males, and 11.8 per cent for females. Women have to fight against dreadful working conditions at work, and low wages with no security. They have to raise their voice against domestic violence, dowry deaths, foeticide, sexual harassment and rape
Now, an educated female has lots of opportunities for participation in economic progress of the country. Women throng to new fields such as IT, Media, teaching profession, fine arts. Wages are still not commensurate with those of men and all sectors of the economy may still not be open to them but they are willing to work in order to support their families to earn dowries for themselves. There is a new found confidence in women but the violence poses a huge and debilitating challenge to it “It is interesting that extremely common reason encountered today among parents for not wanting girl children is the insecure environment in villages, towns and cities” (Ravinder Kaur). As we reported in an earlier article the findings published in British Medical Journal The Lancet, about 12 million female fetuses have been aborted between 1980 and 2010. Much of the contemporary depletion of the girls is achieved by the use of pre-natal diagnostic technologies. “Hence, if we have to dedicate this International Women’s Day to something, we should dedicate it to renewed efforts to restore the balance in the sex ratio and make society violence free for women” (Ravinder Kaur).
The status of the world’s women is not only a matter of morality and justice. It is also a political, economic and social imperative. When women are free to develop their talents and contribute fully to their societies, everyone benefits.
“In 1995, the world said with one voice that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights. Today, we must say with one voice that women’s progress is human progress, and human progress is women’s progress, once and for all” (Hillary Clinton).
Dr. Bikkar Singh Lalli is a Surrey-based writer and educationist who has previously served as a UBC chancellor.