Here we are at another March and another Women’s Day. In the 24 hours that we will be bombarded with things to buy to ‘celebrate’ women on March 8, which is recognised as the International Women’s day, I plead for the following:
● Understand the significance of the day. Over a century of struggle and ask how a movement for working women’s rights has been reduced by marketing agencies to token and t-shirt feminism.
● While on the ‘F’ word, read up on feminism just so it reminds us that it is but a demand for equality of the sexes. If you believe in this, you are a feminist, and hey, it’s good to want equality and be a feminist. If you take this reading advice seriously, you’ll stumble upon the fact that bra-burning which is so closely associated with the feminist movement never happened. It’s fictional, and no bras were burnt in public.
● In the process I ask of you to unmask the myth that there is such a thing as capitalist feminism, because there is not, and equality cannot be achieved in an unequal exploitative capitalist economy. What I mean is that a ‘Proud Feminist’ t-shirt, even when worn in good spirit cannot be delinked from underpaid factory workers in unsafe environments producing them. But if you are proud to be a feminist, this is an easy connection to make.
● The International Women’s day started off a ‘working-women’s’ struggle. So use this chance to see labour that goes into everything that is done — housework, childcare, all kinds of unpaid work and informal work including sanitary, domestic and construction work — because all work is work. Most work that women do remains unfortunately unpaid, but seeing that it fuels the economy is a start to changing this. So use this chance to thank the people who make life easier for you by doing work that remains largely invisible.
● Do what you can to relieve your workplace of gender discrimination. Check if the company complies with the different laws that place the workplace safer for women employees and encourage women to stay in the job. This is maternity benefits, back-from-break programmes, adequate cab services, staff sensitisation, non-discriminatory hiring policies, period leaves, minimum and equal pay, safe working conditions, sexual harassment committees that exist outside the paper, and a commitment to bring more women into the workforce. Join the union, or form one if you must. If you cannot do either, at least pledge your support to trade union work that stands one with worker’s struggles.
● If you see ‘division of labour’ based on gender, try coaxing it out of its comfort zone. It is easy to set aside tasks based on gender, but we are already talking paternity leave and stay-at-home dads and must not stop till nurturing is a natural way of life for everyone across all strata, not just women. We could begin from our homes.
● When a person questions the need for feminism anymore and insists that all we need is humanism, call them in to a conversation about privilege, pointing out that we all need feminism till no one needs it. The struggle is just beginning. As a stalwart women’s right activist of Tamil Nadu, Mythily Sivaraman says in an interview, “There is no such thing as freedom only for me. When the person next to you is not free, you cannot be free either.”
● Remember or find feminist ‘foremothers’ in this month that is also Women’s History Month. We are where we are only because of these women. Contributing to archives with stories from your own family, and unearthing new women for us to be grateful to not only puts more women on the map, it reinforces that the feminist movement and it’s struggle for equality is very much an on-going one. We are the ones who have the power to write her story of tomorrow. Yes, you too.
● This year, on March 8, celebrate your body for what it is and what it can do instead of celebrating by buying. Pamper yourself with sisterhoods, solidarity networks and friends; some of whom I’m sure can give massage salons a run for their money. Ladies Brunch if you should, but savour the ideas of a safe world, safe cultures, and safe space. When at the parlour, mediate on the possibility that a woman can be born, die and live with dignity, whether she is good, bad or ugly. Till we don’t need #metoo campaigns, it is not times up for the feminist movement.
The writer is a city-based activist, in-your-face feminist and a media glutton