Out of the Cloak
Aasha Mehreen Amin
The hundredth year of International Women's Day is about to be celebrated on March eight and one can only imagine the extent of events and programmes to commemorate such an occasion. It will be a celebration no doubt but also an assessment of how far women have been able to forge ahead despite the overwhelming odds against them. Despite the ambivalence I feel towards all the exaggerated hoopla associated with celebrating an international-something day, I can't help but feel a little excited. The reason for this strange positive feeling, one that I am not often so familiar with, is that the most obvious reason to applaud ourselves is that we are stepping out of our centuries old invisibility cloak. Yes there are still many of us gagged and bound by the chains of male domination. But there are also many more who have come out of the vicious boundaries of invisibility.
Women garment workers are perhaps the greatest example of this visibility as it can be seen each morning on the streets as thousands of young women walk briskly to work asserting their right to be financially independent. These women have stepped out of their homes because they have to for economic reasons but also because they want to. A large number of these women were former domestic workers who were at the beck and call of their employers, with no uniformity in terms of pay and no regular holidays. The only redeeming aspects of domestic employment (unless the employers were the rare few who are kind and just) is that food and boarding are part of the deal if it is a day and night job. Garment workers have to work gruelling hours, they are often stuck in a claustrophobic room with very few breaks. They must cook for themselves after a long tiring day and much of their pay goes towards food and rent. Yet they still prefer it to domestic work because of the freedom and dignity that they have tasted for the first time in their lives. Even their families treat them with more respect because of the extra income that they bring. They have become visible.
There are other women on the streets we see everyday. They are the part-time domestic maids who may have, up to three jobs- cleaning, washing and cooking for different households. Their pay is very little and they do backbreaking work but they are the sole or main breadwinners of the family. Many are widowed or abandoned by their husbands or have husbands who no longer earn. Even if is purely for survival they have a certain amount of freedom and control over their lives.
The streets are no longer filled with only men. Women are braving the ogling, the surreptitious touching while walking or standing in the bus, charging on in the obstacle race. There are still many hurdles ahead in this potholed path but women are coming out in the thousands. They are out there in a virtual war zone, determined to get to their destination. For me that's enough reason to celebrate.
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