On today’s #IWD2023, we celebrate the role of innovative technology in promoting gender equality. Women possess the potential to drive innovation in health, science & technology so we must tackle the digital gender divide & promote women’s participation in those fields.
— Dr Matshidiso Moeti (@MoetiTshidi) March 8, 2023
Women Rights: Yet another International Women’s Day came and passed away. Odes and pean on #Internationalwomen’sday2023, every where reflected the stories of struggle, victories, triumphs and accomplishments. The digital age definitely has added a sheen to women’s day celebrations.
Amidst the same old way of embracing-gender equity as the theme, a couple of speeches, protests, more promises and resolutions made-only to be forgotten, do we realise how much still is to be achieved by women in terms of even basic human rights? Does following same old rituals year after year make any difference or is it just the change in the calendar?
Do Influential people who promise and pass resolutions at the top of their voices during Women’s Day meetings actually know how to reach that goal and shape that narrative or these are just the talks to sound fashionably ‘feminist’?
World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti in her message on International Women’s Day said, “DigitALL Innovation and technology for gender equality, highlighting the role of innovative technology in promoting gender equality and meeting the health and developmental needs of women and girls.”
While lauding women’s contributions during the Covid 19 pandemic he said, “Efforts at innovation have facilitated improved access to quality health care services and encouraged the participation of individuals, families, and community stakeholders in health care, especially during the COVID-19 lockdowns. We have seen that women can be innovators and contribute to transforming the health of all people on the continent. In December 2018, we organized the first WHO Africa Innovation Challenge. It was a deliberate effort to find solutions to Africa’s unmet health needs and recognize home-grown innovations that could solve Africa’s health challenges. More than a third of the over 2400 submissions from 77 countries came from women-led
enterprises and one of them emerged among the top three awardees. We need to encourage and support such dedication.”
Encourage and support! Yes, but how? This is a moot question. Especially when we look around in the world and realise the real status of women.
Head Scarfs to education and more, unending Struggle for women rights
How do you think women in Iran consider the importance of International Women’s day when their little sisters are being poisoned, to stop them from getting education? Not just higher education, but any education.
Repression against women in Iran
Is it retaliation by some extremist groups for the recent protests by Iranian women against wearing headscarves or veils? The movement or civil unrest against the Iranian government gained momentum in September last year after Mahsa Amini a student was taken into custody by the police for allegedly violating Iran’s mandatory hijab law.
According to eyewitnesses, she had her scarf loosely tied around her head while visiting the capital. Amini eventually died after being tortured by the Guidance Patrol officers, sparking massive protests around the country. According to official reports, about 450 people have died in the protests while unofficial figures put the number higher.
Viral videos show women and even minors being beaten with batons and sprayed with tear gas and bullets. Human Rights activists claim as many as 70 children and 29 people have been killed, although these reports could not be confirmed due to internet shutdowns.
Some detainees have been executed including public hanging. Reports have it that as many as 20,000 are still in prisons and their fate remains uncertain.
Some have suggested that the mass illnesses felt by the young girls are a result of sociogenic illness or are the symptoms without biomedical cause, resulting from the repression of school girls during the movement. Others have suggested that the girls were poisoned with a low dose of chlorine, which is why there have not been serious illnesses or deaths. Whatever the case, neither the Iranian government has accepted the poisoning of the girls nor has any group come forward claiming responsibility.
Anyway, trying to stop girls in Iran from going to school has come as a shock as girls’ education has been widely accepted and is part of the ordinary lives of women in Iran, for far too long. A 2011 report puts the number of women in universities outnumbered men and female literacy rose from 26% in 1976 to 85% in 2021.
Afghan women, a case of absolute repression
The plight of women in Afghanistan is no different making Women’s Day a mere farce for them. The Taliban-ruled country has banned women from education and is the worst in the world when it comes to gender-based education policy.
As many as 3.5 million secondary school girls have been barred from entering schools and universities. Late last year, it allowed some women to take up some selective courses, of the Taliban’s choice. How can we talk of gender equality in the world when gender is the condition for as basic rights as education and freedom?
The Taliban banned women from walking alone, entering gyms and parks, going to cinemas and to chose their life partners. Women were fired from their jobs be they news anchors, doctors, nurses, teachers professors or government workers. There is a rise in child marriages in Afghanistan. Women in Afghanistan are suffering and have been the victims of militarization and local strife and Talibanization of the country.
Ironically until the disturbances in the 70s, women enjoyed relative freedom in the country. They wore mini skirts and had the liberty to walk anywhere and marry anyone and attend universities. In fact, women in Afghanistan got the right to vote in 1919, a year before American women. Soviet occupation in the 70s and the eventual civil unrest in the country, which saw the rise of Mujahideen and then the Taliban, women in Afghanistan, resulted in women losing all their rights. How unjustified is that?
The latest news from Afghanistan is that the Taliban is forcefully trying to send divorced women back to their abusive husbands. The Taliban are not recognising their divorce decrees and demand that lawyers not take up cases for women. The divorced women in Afghanistan are running terrorized and going into hiding.
There is no such thing called ‘absolute rights’ for women even in the most developed world like the USA. Reversal of the Roe v Wade judgement by the US Supreme Court in 2022 withdrawing women’s right to abortion in some states is nothing but the reflection of a repressive society where women are not allowed even the right over their bodies.
Women had to fight for decades to get a right to their bodies which was reversed by a stroke of a pen by some conservative judges. Roe v Wade was a landmark judgement in 1973 which gave women the right to choose if they want to keep their pregnancy, which may be the
result of sexual assault, rape or simple innocence. Fifty years later, women are back on
the streets fighting for the same rights.
Women rights in India, one step forward, two steps backwards
Celebrations of the unprecedented achievements of its Women’s cricket team by the country appear ironical amidst the fact that its capital New Delhi, records six rape cases every single day. Ten years after the gruesome rape and murder of Nirbhaya, nothing seems to have changed, said Swati Maliwal Chairperson of the Delhi Commission of Women. Said she in a message, “The problems of increasing crime against women and girls have reached an epidemic proportion and the governments are failing to take concrete steps to counter it. Governments have failed to create deterrence.”
According to National Crime Records Bureau, as many as 430,000 cases were reported against women in 2021, which was 40 per cent higher than a decade earlier. It is believed that these figures may just be a fraction of the actual number as many do not report gender-based violence.
International Women’s Day, celebrated every year on March 8, to spread the message of gender equality, achievements and equity appears to sham with existing violence, disparities, lack of freedom and access to education and health care etc, to women. yet just highlighting is not enough.
Women have been fighting for equal rights for decades. Although many countries have safeguarded women through their respective constitutions even in these countries the realities on the grounds reflect a sorry state. In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and other Islamic and war-torn countries miles have yet to be covered to go before we sleep! It is not easy to be a woman in countries and survival for women, is a never-ending struggle.