MARCH 8 International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated all over the world to reiterate the struggle for equality, justice and a violence free life for women. The German revolutionary Clara Zetkin proposed in the International Socialist Women’s Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark in August 1910 that March 8 be celebrated as International Women’s Day. 100 women delegates from 17 countries agreed with the idea as a strategy to promote equal rights including suffrage for women. Women demanded that they be given the right to vote and to hold public office. They also protested against sex discrimination in employment. The United Nations began celebrating this day from 1975.
Women have been fighting for an equal world for more than 110 years. Challenging stereotypes, fighting bias and broadening perceptions, women have been raising their voice for their rightful place in society. Multiple obstacles remain unchanged in law and in culture. Women and girls continue to be undervalued; they work more and earn less and have fewer choices. They experience multiple forms of violence at home and in public spaces. Furthermore, there is a significant threat of rollback of hard-won gains.
CONSTITUTION UNDER THREAT
IWD is being celebrated in India this year at a time where all citizens believing in the values of democracy and secularism must come forward and speak up. All that India stands for is under threat. The Indian constitution, which is a product of the aspirations of our freedom struggle, is sought to be replaced by the reactionary Manusmriti. These are ominous signals for the backward and exploited sections of our population, especially women.
The constitution of India provides its citizens with six fundamental rights which are basic human rights of all citizens irrespective of race, place of birth, religion, caste, creed, or gender. These rights are the right to freedom, right to equality, cultural and educational rights, right to constitutional remedies, and right against exploitation. Recently, the right to privacy has also been added to the fundamental rights. The purpose of the fundamental rights is to preserve individual liberty and democratic principles based on equality of all members of society.
These very basic rights are sought to be denied in the name of religion through the CAA, NRC and NPR. The secular character of our country is sought to be destroyed and turned into a theocratic, Manuwadi and fascistic Hindu Rashtra where upper caste and upper class hegemony will be reinforced. The recent horrific and pre-planned riots in the nation’s capital Delhi have once again underlined the gravity of the communal danger.
But lakhs of women, students and youth are fighting against the politics of hatred, increasing violence and blatant attempts to impose the RSS’ Hindutva ideology on the nation. Women, especially Muslim women, have been braving the bitter cold and sitting in dharnas at Shaheen Bagh in Delhi and innumerable other places across the country against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizenship (NRC). The BJP-RSS government has been resorting to repression to frighten the protesters into submission. This has instead strengthened the resolve not only of women, students and youth, but of all citizens who are striving to preserve our diverse culture and national unity.
ASSAULT ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS
The ruling RSS-BJP dispensation is launching fierce assaults on women’s rights. India is reeling under the twin attack of escalating price rise of all essential commodities and unprecedented unemployment. This is an integral part of the deepening economic crisis and recession that has been aggravated by the neoliberal and crony corporate policies of the Modi government.
The work participation rate of women is the lowest since independence. Due to the pressures to keep the home fires burning, women are pushed into the most insecure and low-paying unorganised sectors resulting in greater exploitation. The withdrawal of the State from vital sectors like education, health, food and civic facilities is increasing the burden on women who have to bear the responsibility of providing the care facilities at home.
Violence against women and girls is among the most pervasive human rights violations, affecting at least a billion women across the globe. Violence against women and girls takes many forms, including physical and emotional abuse, forced and unwanted sex, early and forced marriage, female genital cutting, trafficking and deprivation of resources and rights. Women and girls face violence at home, in school, on the street, at work, on public transportation and online. Women are targeted during communal riots and caste violence.
Violence against women has increased exponentially in the last six years of the Modi regime. In several of these cases, it is BJP leaders themselves who have sexually assaulted women.
The Sangh’s definition of ‘cultural nationalism’ imposes an especially heavy burden on women, who are supposed to be flag bearers of ‘Indian culture’. This definition of ‘culture’ includes a celebration of sati, child marriage, and of social customs that impose restrictions on women’s freedom. Women who wear jeans, celebrate Valentine’s Day, and Hindu women who marry outside caste/religion barriers are often attacked by the Sangh Parivar brigades for violating ‘Indian culture’ as propagated in the Manusmruti. The increase in incidents of ‘honour killings’ in various parts of our country shows how patriarchal and feudal norms are being reinforced.
All this cannot be allowed. Decades long struggles by our social reformers against caste and gender discrimination and the values of our freedom struggle cannot be destroyed.
NATIONWIDE CELEBRATION OF IWD BY AIDWA
On this International Women’s Day, March 8, 2020, AIDWA mobilised women in defense of the constitution and women’s rights and against violence. AIDWA also raised the issues of shrinking job opportunities for women, minimum wages and equal pay for women, attacks on dalits and Muslims by the Sangh Parivar. Multifarious programmes were organised from March 5 to 8 in 22 states in the country. Tens of thousands of women participated in all these programmes. AIDWA also enthusiastically participated in the ‘Jail Bharo’ programmes all over the country organised by the Working Women’s Coordination Committee of the CITU.
Kerala: More than 25,000 women participated in 12 district level rallies and public meetings. Most of the districts had whole day programmes with lively cultural activities like dances, dramas, songs and music. The cultural programmes continued till midnight and ended with the ‘night walk’ which was declared by the women and child welfare department of Kerala. Thousands of women enthusiastically took part in the night walk. The book on ‘Women Constitution Builders’ published by Samantha group was released. Programmes could not held in Kollam and Pathanamthitta districts due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus.
West Bengal: Under the banner of Nari Swadhikar Sammannay, a joint platform of 50 organisations consisting of women, working women, NGOs, student and youth organizations, an innovative joint rally in Kolkata was organised to observe International Women’s Day on March 8. Women from the anti-CAA-NPR-NRC demonstrations of Park Circus, Rajabazar, Nabab Ali Park also attended this rally. This central rally was organised from Maulali to Park Circus where more than 5,000 women participated. After the rally, a human chain was formed and a torch was lit at the Park Circus Maidan. Various programmes like blood donation camps, rallies, seminars, hall meetings, etc were held in 22 districts by AIDWA.
Tamil Nadu: Programmes were planned to celebrate IWD during the entire month of March but due to the Corona threat they could not be held. Rallies, public meetings, seminars took place in eight districts on March 8. A total of 6,200 women participated. Efforts were made to jointly conduct events with other Left women's organisations and NGOs. Organisations such as Working Women's Organisation, NFIW, SUCI, YWCA, MCCSS, Manidhi, Self Help Groups, TNSF, SFI, DYFI participated in joint events. Middle class organisations in LIC, BSNL, BEFI, TNGEA women sub-committees also participated. Programmes were held in M S University and Parasakthi college in Tirunelveli.
Delhi: A joint public meeting of various women’s organisations was held at Jantar Mantar in Delhi. The AIDWA Delhi state committee has been active in the relief work among the Delhi riot affected people and took part in the peace marches in all areas.
Maharashtra: A variety of programmes were held in the state and these were attended by more than 5,000 women. More than 1,200 adivasi women enthusiastically participated in the meetings and rallies held in four tehsils of Thane-Palghar district. Two conventions were held in Solapur. A cultural programme, felicitation of women achievers and a lecture on security of women were the different programmes held in Sangli. Veteran leaders of AIDWA were felicitated in the district convention held in Wardha where there was also a music concert by a progressive music group. A rally was held in Mumbai jointly by various women’s organisations. Raigad, Satara, Jalna, Nagpur, Kolhapur districts too observed the International Women’s Day.
Andhra Pradesh: Rallies were organised in 41 centres in 13 districts. Totally 7,000 women participated in these rallies. During the March 8 programme in Guntur, Rs 15,300 was collected as relief fund for the Delhi riot victims. The AP United Teachers Federation, East Godavari district women’s sub-committee collected Rs 50,100 for the Delhi riot victims during the IWD programme.
Telangana: IWD programmes were held in 61 centres in 22 districts. DWACRA groups were mobilised in Hyderabad. A rally from RTC Cross Roads to Sundarayya Park was followed by a seminar. A seminar was also held in Nalgonda.
Bihar: Spirited rallies were held in 20 places in 12 districts which were attended by more than 2,000 women. The symbols of NPR-NRC-CAA were consigned to flames as part of the burning of Holika at Kargil Chowk in Patna. This was organised jointly by AIDWA and Rainbow Foundation. Programmes were held in Samastipur, Dalsinghsarai, Madhubani, Fulparas, Khagadiya, Vaishali, Muzaffarpur, Gaya, Aurangabad and other districts.
Haryana: Human chains were organised on March 8 in the districts of Rohtak, Sirsa, Kaithal, Hisar, Sonepat, Panipat, Gurgaon, Karnal, Bhivani, Jind and Yamunanagar, and in two tehsils of Hansi and Narvana. More than 1,500 women participated in these human chains. The preamble of the constitution was read out and the participants took an oath to continue the struggle against discrimination on the basis of religion, caste and gender and fight to preserve democracy and the unity of India. The contributions of legendary women leaders like Clara Zetkin, Roza Luxemburg, Savitribai Phule, Pandita Ramabai, Fatima Shaikh were remembered. Seminars were held in two districts.
Himachal Pradesh: IWD was celebrated on March 7 in the state. In spite of heavy snowfall and rain, programmes were organised in six districts, namely Shimla, Kullu, Mandi, Hamirpur and Sirmour. A cricket match was organised for young girls in Solan. A memorandum on health issues was submitted to the chief minister.
Punjab: Programmes were organised in eight districts. Issues of price rise, drug addiction, MNREGA, violence against women were raised. Total participation of women in these programmes was around 1,200.
Assam: International Women’s Day programmes were held where more than 5,000 women participated in 47 places in 20 districts.
Rajasthan: More than 5,000 women participated in seven districts.
Uttar Pradesh: Around 2,300 women participated in various programmes held in Kanpur, Agra, Mirzapur, Chandoli, Sonbhadra and Allahabad.
Madhya Pradesh: Seminars and rallies were held in Jabalpur, Gwalior and Guna. A joint programme was organised in Bhopal.
Odisha: Block level programmes were held in all districts.
Karnataka: Programmes were held in Bangalore, Mandya and Bellary.
Other States: IWD programmes were held in Korba in Chhattisgarh, Bhavnagar in Gujarat, Imphal in Manipur and some districts in Jharkhand.