INTERNATIONAL Women’s Day, one of the few surviving legacies of the socialist values of yore, seeks to commemorate the unacknowledged contribution of women to the development and growth of the human race. Today much will be said about their role that has been a worthy one despite the inequalities and prejudices that have handicapped them in many societies. Not to be forgotten either is the oppression that weighs down the bulk of women the world over. But the good news is that by and large the winds of change are blowing. Since 1975, when the UN celebrated the first IWD, women’s rights have come to be widely recognised as human rights. It is also conceded generally that women are entitled to equal opportunities as men to enable them to maximise their potential, though this concept has not always been translated into action. As a result, in many countries – and Pakistan is one of them – the status of women is far from satisfactory.
March 8 is usually an occasion to review women’s progress in their “struggle for equality, peace and development”. In this context the theme for IWD this year ‘Investing in women and girls’ has great relevance for us. With only a third of our women being literate – only a small fraction are educated – they lack the skills which can facilitate their economic empowerment. Not surprisingly their share in the earned income is less than a quarter. There is certainly a lot of investment that is called for. Much of the gender disparity is masked by Pakistan’s stratified society. Women from the highly privileged and well-endowed elitist class have made it to the top but the majority is impoverished with far too many women being deprived of education, health care and decent employment for us to be counted as a civilised state.
It is this majority that needs to be uplifted. Thankfully, the emergence of the women’s movement has brought a sea change in social attitudes and has mobilised women to struggle for their cause. Theirs has been an inclusive struggle which in due course embraced all oppressed classes struggling for the rights and freedoms of the downtrodden. By networking and uniting women have mainstreamed themselves in many areas. As a result, the feminists of today are equally concerned about issues that were previously believed to lie in the male domain – war and peace, politics, the national economy and governance. Women understand the implications of these for their own empowerment and they are now equal participants in the struggle for democracy, justice and liberty. This approach has strengthened their hands. But what is missing is a firm and extensive link with the women at the grassroots which would give qualitative and quantitative strength to the movement.