Aasha Mehreen Amin
I have a confession to make. I don't like phrases like 'International Women's Day', Women's pages and 'women's issues'. They irritate me to the core, mainly because they pin-hole women into a specific slot, a particular day of the year, a specific page in a newspaper or a certain category. I understand that women are marginalised, underpowered and so on which makes it apparently necessary to have separate places where women's voices can be heard. But I still find these demarcated isolations rather insulting. Why must we have an international day for us? Should not everyday be our day? Why is there no such thing as International Man's Day or International Day for Human Beings? Why are there no 'Men's Pages'? Of course such questions sound ludicrous while International Women's Day sounds perfectly sane. I have nothing against celebrating womanhood on a specific day but when one day is designated to cram in every kind of seminar, workshop, exhibition etc as homage to women (like we are dead or something), it becomes clear that we are still stuck in an age when women need specific days for their rights to be talked about, for people to acknowledge their achievements, challenges and even their existence. This is reality but I don't see why I must accept it and pretend to be enthusiastic about a day that has been declared to be the day of the woman. I am cynical because every day I am bombarded with instances of how unfairly, cruelly my fellow women-beings (we are another species) are treated, and the unbelievable hardships and deprivations they face because of their sex. I am disgusted that all these injustices go on without evoking an iota of compassion from the majority.
Take Rabeya Begum, a housemaid who lost the only home she knew when a government drive to evict people in the bastis, finally reached her little hut in a Bashantek slum area where thousands of people used to live. With a half-blind husband and three children, all of them girls and one of them only six months old, Rabeya is the sole earning member of the family. Her salary from doing part-time domestic work was all she had to feed her family. After the whole slum had been bulldozed to the ground Rabeya, her husband and three small children spent the night shivering out in the open, with drops of rain falling on their hungry bodies. The next morning Rabeya realised that many of her belongings had been stolen. There was no other alternative but to go back to her husband's village in Brahmanbaria where there was no homestead to go to and no jobs to work at. Even the few relatives they had were themselves in hardship and were in no position to give shelter to a whole family. Still, Rabeya was forced to leave Dhaka. With whatever little money she had saved Rabeya built a little hut with bamboo and tin near the river. Her husband is still unemployed and her girls are often ill due to malnutrition. A few days ago Rabeya came back to Dhaka hoping that somehow she would be able to stay with people she knew and continue to work. But no one wanted to give her shelter beyond a day or two especially since she had her baby girl with her. Everyone she knows is living in fear of being evicted. How can they possibly give shelter to her and her little baby? In any case who would take care of her baby while she worked? Thus Rabeya had no choice but to go back to the village. This time however, she has managed to borrow a few thousand taka to buy a sewing machine. This is the only way she thinks she can feed her family. She is like thousands of other women in this country, a victim of acute poverty and societal neglect. I ask her if she knows about International Women’s Day. She gives me a blank look and then admits that she has no clue.
There are so many women like Rabeya. Some have husbands who are too ill to work or too addicted to drugs. Many are widows or have been abandoned by their husbands. All of them work inhumanly hard to support their children. They are all survivors yet chances are that ‘International Women’s Day’ means absolutely nothing to them.
Then I flip the pages of the newspaper and am again struck hard. They are filled with stories of women domestic workers being murdered or housewives burnt alive or slaughtered for dowry or because they complained against the husband’s infidelity. These stories do not end but go on and on. Every single day women have to fight some battle or another. It is an ongoing struggle to fight unbelievable odds – poverty, sexual aggression, discrimination and violence. So forgive me if I don’t jump up with joy when ‘International Women’s Day’ comes along. To me it’s just another day.
(R) thedailystar.net 2007