Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Volume 5, Issue 10, Tuesday March 4, 2008


image of a woman

Adela (not her real name) wore tight-fitting blouses and low-slung jeans to class. Permanently preoccupied with her own thoughts, she sat in the back row and contributed little to the class discussions, and yet, whenever the exams came around, she invariably aced them, and her grades were always a foregone conclusion.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

"No surprises there; if I were a girl and flaunted myself like that, I'm pretty sure the teacher would give me an 'A' too" was a comment I was to hear over and over again during the three odd years that I studied with her. Since we shared a common interest in books and spent many an odd free period discussing our reads, I knew that the complaints were mostly unjust; the girl had a perfectly decent head on her shoulders.

It's funny, isn't it, even with the emphasis on educating females, our supposed commitment to the emancipation of woman, her career, her self-worth, in the end, a woman is still judged by her presentation as opposed to her skills and talents? If she receives a decent grade, or a promotion, it is because she is beautiful, or she tempted the authorities with her dress and deportment, not because she is smart, not because she worked hard and deserves it. And sometimes, the hard work is defeated merely by the fact that she is a woman.

Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her book "Living History" relates an incident during her first term as the First Lady, when she participated in an important forum discussion about one of her husband's policies, a show that was televised:
"At some point, I looked toward the audience and saw my aide-de-camp Kelly Craighead crawling down the centre aisle of the auditorium. She was gesturing frantically, slapping the top of her head and pointing at me. I kept on talking and listening, unable to figure out what she was doing.

It was another hair crisis. Capricia Marshall, who was in Washington watching her television, noticed that a stray piece of hair was sticking straight up from the centre of my head. She suspected that the audience would be staring at my hair instead of listening to what I was saying, so she got Kelly on her cell phone. "Get her hair down!"

And no, this is not just another example of American craziness. A female news presenter over here is twice as likely to receive feedback on her fashion sense (or lack thereof) than she is on her presentation; her male counterpart will just be listened to without particular comment (unless his accent is that outlandish). A female CEO will be remembered more for her clothes than her administrative skills. After all, she is a woman...she couldn't have gotten without cashing in on her looks and sex appeal, right?

It is almost laughable how attitudes about a woman's character continue to be so polarised. She is either the conservative 'good girl', or the wanton 'tramp'. She is either the ghoroa homemaker, or the uronchondi career girl, a mother-in-law's nightmare. An in-between seems inconceivable. And inferences about personality, values and background are made on the superficial basis of appearance. Yours truly recently had a roaring argument with a person who was sure she wasn't the 'praying type' just because she wears jeans.

Women don't make it easier for themselves either. You see the clone army in high school, with their chemically straightened and coloured hair, kohl-lined eyes and glossy pouts. You see girls squeezing themselves into outlandish outfits in an effort to appear 'sexy'. You see mothers dragging their daughters to salons and demanding that their reluctant princesses be given the 'Kasauti cut', whatever that may be. And through it all, there is talk on corners.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

"I saw so-and-so at a cafe with two guys, what a hussy!"
"Na bhabi, amar meye to bairei jay na!"
"Did you see the way she smiles at the boss? Expect a promotion soon!"

With the image trap working overtime, those women who dare to brave those leery looks and sneery comments in order to dare to be different, to strive for something greater, deserve extra respect. Here's to all the women who defy definitions and refuse to get beaten by the system.

By Sabrina F Ahmad
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

History of International
Women's Day

International Women's Day has been observed since the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

Great unrest and critical debate was occurring amongst women. Women's oppression and inequality was spurring women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for change. Then in 1908, 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

Following the decision agreed at Copenhagen in 1911, International Women's Day (IWD) was honoured the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March. More than one million women and men attended IWD rallies campaigning for women's rights to work, vote, be trained, to hold public office and end discrimination. However less than a week later on 25 March, the tragic 'Triangle Fire' in New York City took the lives of more than 140 working women, most of them Italian and Jewish immigrants. This disastrous event drew significant attention to working conditions and labour legislation in the United States that became a focus of subsequent International Women's Day events. 1911 also saw women's 'Bread and Roses' campaign.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed

1918 -1999
Since its birth in the socialist movement, International Women's Day has grown to become a global day of recognition and celebration across developed and developing countries alike. For decades, IWD has grown from strength to strength annually. For many years the United Nations has held an annual IWD conference to coordinate international efforts for women's rights and participation in social, political and economic processes. 1975 was designated as 'International Women's Year' by the United Nations. Women's organisations and governments around the world have also observed IWD annually on 8 March by holding large-scale events that honour women's advancement and while diligently reminding of the continued vigilance and action required to ensure that women's equality is gained and maintained in all aspects of life.

2000 - 2007
IWD is now an official holiday in Armenia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. The tradition sees men honouring their mothers, wives, girlfriends, colleagues, etc with flowers and small gifts. In some countries IWD has the equivalent status of Mother's Day where children give small presents to their mothers and grandmothers.

The new millennium has witnessed a significant change and attitudinal shift in both women's and society's thoughts about women's equality and emancipation. Many from a younger generation feel that 'all the battles have been won for women' while many feminists from the 1970's know only too well the longevity and ingrained complexity of patriarchy. With more women in the boardroom, greater equality in legislative rights, and an increased critical mass of women's visibility as impressive role models in every aspect of life, one could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women still are not present in equal numbers in business or politics, and globally women's education, health and the violence against them is worse than that of men.

So make a difference, think globally and act locally! Make everyday International Women's Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.

Source: Excerpts from www.internationalwomensday.com


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