As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, let us reflect upon the immeasurable contributions made by women across the world. Many courageous women throughout history have stood and championed against all odds for women’s political and socio-economic equality. Yet, there are many more unsung and equally worthy heroes who though inconspicuous in their deeds have been the foundations of every society. Every woman-mothers, sisters, aunties, grandmothers, and wives-in every society are the unsung heroes. It is these fearless and courageous women, unwavering in their love that inspire and carry societies forward.
Woman = Men
As I write an article on Women’s Equality Day, which is celebrated on the 26th August of each year since 1920, I realize the reason as to why I am able to jot down my pen to work is because of the real fight fought by many brave souls over the years. This day marks a turning point in the history of the struggle for equal treatment of women and their rights. Women’s Equality Day commemorates 26th August 1920 when the right to voting was won by women in the US. It was at the behest of Congresswoman Bella Abzug in 1971, the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.” Abzug could introduce the bill in the Parliament based on decades of activism by suffrage activists like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott.
Prior to movements like these, even respected thinkers such as Rousseau and Kant believed that woman’s inferior status in society was completely logical and reasonable; women were ‘beautiful’ and ‘not fit for serious employment’. According to such opinions, all women could be understood as “Nora” of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House. In the play, Nora is a homemaker, wife and mother. The play traces the awakening of Nora Helmer from her previously unexamined life of domestic, wifely comfort. Having been ruled her whole life by either her father or her husband, Torvald. Nora, who has been manipulated to live a life of a doll in the name of ‘protection’, realizes the truth, the truth about her husband, her marriage, her subjugation as a woman; she breaks the tradition and walks out of her husband’s life to find her true self, her true identity.
Over the last century, great women have proven these views (inferiority of women) wrong as the world has witnessed just what women are capable of achieving, from the likes of Rosa Parks and Eleanor Roosevelt fighting for civil rights and equality to great scientists such as Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin and Jane Goodall (to name a few). The last century has shown more than ever what both women and men are capable of achieving, “given the opportunity”.
In the Indian context we can declare with pride that its society has successfully done away with many of the social evils; yet cannot claim that India is free from gender biases. Are we really treating genders equally? The concern here is how they are treated even when they are on the same horizon. Ranging from celebrities to daily wage earners, women face the challenges of differential treatment based on gender. Lower salaries, unwillingness to hire married women, reluctance to appoint them to higher posts, it’s all a sad reality.
From the likes of the Indian poet Kamala Das who explored female sexuality fearlessly, to personalities such as Barkha Dutt, who bravely reported from the precarious conditions of the Kargil War, from words to action, Indian women have come a long way proving the myth of female inferiority to be a farce. Despite the massive progress and achievements, women living in modern India are still challenged with many issues of identity and discrimination.
I remember a discourse that had unfolded in one of my classes recently. The discourse was about a woman being ‘independent’. One of the students remarked that I was a strong independent woman and the other student stopped the sentence with an attempt to rectify (done with good intention, but gone haywire) that Ma’am cannot be addressed as ‘independent’ because Ma’am is ‘married’! I had a caesura time there! Would they have the same opinion about a male teacher who was married? It set me to ponder if it was the voice of one male student alone or of the society as a whole. I was a daughter and a sister and then I became a wife and a mother. Yet in this transition, the ‘I’, my being, my essence, my individuality remains the same. Then is the society eyeing me from a different perspective because of the ‘transition’? Am I now just the ‘other half’, and not a ‘complete being’, am I now ‘dependent’ because of the social duality based on my biological existence?
The male/female hierarchical dichotomy and the fight against it is not a localized issue. Every woman, from every angle is one through their stance and will to annihilate this dichotomy which prevails in different forms. ‘Nora’ has walked out and today we even have a woman as a Presidential candidate of USA (from where the concept of Women’s Equality Day germinated) marking the journey from ‘Let Us Vote’ to ‘Vote for Me’. A wonderful transition indeed!
Yet the journey of ‘Nora’ does not end with the walking out. As we observe the day, the larger concern should be the journey and the destination that ‘Nora’ is supposed to reach. Women’s Equality Day is not confined to voting right alone, rather slips into every aspect. The observance calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality. I, however believe that the most important part of this struggle is women realizing their own right to fight for equality. Women have to let go of age-old cultural norms which place them behind the menfolk. I cannot but help wonder how many ‘Noras’ have to walk out of their houses before we stop shrouding their existence in stereotypes and age old norms. Have we progressed but at all?
Let every Nora be a guiding ray for every other Nora!
Degree of Thought is a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express. Degree of Thought will delve into the social, cultural, political and educational issues around us. The views expressed here do not reflect the opinion of the institution. Tetso College is a NAAC Accredited UGC recognized Commerce and Arts College. The editors are Dr. Hewasa Lorin, Anjan Behera, Dr. Salikyu Sangtam, Nivibo Yiki, and Kvulo Lorin. For feedback or comments please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.