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The International Writers Magazine; Woman's Day

A Post-Women’s Day Thought
Leela Solomon

Weekend papers were piled up on my office table. I started clearing them one by one. It was Monday evening. Saturday was Women's Day. So we could not have our regular 'lunch out' in Britannia, an old Iranian hotel, which used to claim it brought berries from Iran. And so there was no mutton berry pulav this time.

No one can say that the media forgot Women’s Day. Almost the same news items appeared in every paper, nothing new this year also…. It has been like this for the past few years. The number of advertisements on cosmetic items, fitness centres and hair cutting saloons has increased…… I did not waste time to find out where they offered discounts for haircuts.

There were a large number of photographs highlighting the celebrations. In Delhi, some scavenger women from Malwa were given five-star dinner on the eve of the Women’s Day. However, I could not guess why they were all standing and surprisingly all were in sarees of the same colour. I got slightly irritated with the authorities. As if they wanted to identify these women only as scavengers! Soon a book might be published on them: The Princesses of Malwa.

The next one was, of course, somewhat better. A photo of the smiling all-women crew of Air India: they had flown all the way from Chennai to Colombo without a single man in the crew. I just remembered a stale news item: gaining weight may affect flying jobs. The Hindu gave the picture of a woman driving two cows along a road. The caption was, appropriately enough, "Long Road to Emancipation". Good, I liked it. At least it was different. But inside there were pictures of Manmohan Singh, our Prime Minister, surrounded by a women’s delegation which had called on him to remind him of the Women’s Bill, and of Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee giving sweets to Renuka Chaudhury, Minister for Women and Child Welfare.

There was an ILO report pointing out that most women were working for low wages. It noted more women were now working globally but with little social protection and less basic rights and voice at work. It also pointed to the inequality in education in some regions, while women’s education was globally improving.

Statistics and figures…..they do their work, and submit reports but who cares? Only in the academic plain they will be analysed and discussed. But at the time of the implementation, the real issue will be covered up with blankets loaded by the political parties. Analysts, academics or statisticians will not have time to watch the implementation process. They do not bother much about how their advice has been adopted by policy-makers and what impediments they face when a policy is implemented. By the time of implementation these academics and analysts would be hidden behind the fat books of more statistical data, figures and graphs. They speak only once in a while, they appear on the scene once in a while. Otherwise, they all will be busy chewing new facts like rats.

I came back to papers. As usual there was also news about some awards: Award of Excellence, Peterson Award, Golden Ovary Award, a new award by Godfrey Phillips Bravery, the Guild of Women Achievers and Meow 104.8 FM. They all will hunt nationwide for real life stories of women and present awards to five of the most courageous of them on March 23. How hectic would be this hunt? Before March 23, they have to finalise it, they have to document real life stories. I don’t believe in such awards, how can you judge that one woman is more courageous than the other? How can you measure courage? A seemingly timid woman may display admirable fortitude in a totally helpless condition when she has no other alternative. Precisely, it all depends on the situation. And what are these real life stories? Are all life stories not real? Whose life is unreal?

I know I must remove the glasses of the critic. (You are here to read news, not to criticize it). Suddenly, I am taken aback by a news item which appeared in the Deccan Herald of March 9. The report was about a girl who had disguised herself as a boy for a job. It happened in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. On the Women's Day, ‘Sreesanth’ met with an accident while riding a bike. Then he was bundled into an auto rickshaw and taken to a hospital where the doctor asked him to take off his shirt for a detailed check up. But he was not ready to do that. The doctor got suspicious and finally his shirt was removed by a nurse. The truth came out: Sreesant was not Sreesanth but Sree; he was not ‘he’ but ‘she’. She had been forced to change her identity because of her bitter experience in job hunting. There is a big bias against women, she argues, in the job market. Yes, we cannot ignore the truth. Women laborers are paid lower wages than their male counterparts. I remembered the ILO report. If a girl like Sree had to disguise herself as a boy (Sreesanth), it was not a crime but an adventurous, really courageous, feat. Godfrey Phillips may please take note of this. Can you deny that she is brave? Can you give her an award for bravery?
leela solomon March 13th 2008>

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