This week another International Women’s Day has come and gone and one wonders why this day is necessary at all. And why there’s no International Men’s Day.
So the answers rather spill out on their own because the world finds itself needing to set aside one day a year, every year, for those who are marginalised in society. Not that the commemorations get terribly specific there is, after all, no International Day for poor children whose mothers didn’t get an education because they were forced into marriage just after puberty and therefore were children themselves. That would be too long a title for an International Day.
While it is a myth to presume that there are places in the world where women are treated equally with men in all facets of life and living the world is today a patriarchy, of that there is no doubt it is a sad fact that in developing nations and nations where one religion predominates the national culture (whatever that religion may be), the unequal predicament of women is too often even more unequal. The problem is not necessarily the lack of development or the predominance of spiritual guidance in the national consciousness, it is simply a predominance of ancient traditions long-held ideas that specify roles for humans based on genders and not on capabilities.
But surprisingly, such approaches to tradition are also myth. If we hearken back to the most ancient of times the cave days of human ancestry many might assume that cavewomen bore the children and did the cooking while the cavemen would scour the wild, hunting and gathering the food and taking charge of the group. But a growing number of scientific studies have demonstrated that this is not necessarily the case. The duties of daily survival were undertaken as necessary and while obvious biological issues to do with reproduction were clearly defined, evidence of women’s importance in economic roles, decision-making, and leadership contradict the notion of a submissive female role. In short, the role of genders has never, is not now, and will never be static in human history.
But today’s reality is too often starker than the memory of history. Today in Pakistan, for instance, girls and women are undoubtedly in an unequal position when it comes to education, employment, inherent rights, land and property rights, participation in politics and business, and household leadership, to name a few things. Perhaps most detrimental to the future of Pakistan is the extremely low rate of literacy among girls and women one of the lowest in the world a sad fact when it has been demonstrated over and again that maternal education levels are directly related to the health and prospects of their children. Yes, a family that does not attend to the education of its daughter has neglected the future of her children, too.
Those of you who are reading this column are not exempt from the problems of inequality for Pakistan’s women, either. It was a Pakistani English magazine just a couple years ago that wrote a harrowing report about the miseries of many a Pakistani middle or upper-middle class wife who has to turn to pharmaceuticals in order to bear her existence. Perhaps you know someone who takes a pill or ten a day, just to make it through. The secret traumas of home life even amongst the well-to-do are not unique to Pakistani women, but it would be an error to exclude them in an overall analysis of the state of Pakistan’s women today.
The point is that there is an International Womans Day because its necessary. Though everyone has a mother, and many have sisters, and aunts and wives and daughters, the female is still the one arguably in all societies whose obligations to society and family are weighed down by expectations and sacrifices that are greater than what is demanded of men and boys. Those who recognise International Womans Day are not making unreasonable demands, they are simply pointing out how much better it would be if a full half of the worlds population werent treated as less than equal.
The writer is US-based political analyst and a fomer Producer for BBC and Al-Jazeera. Follow her on Twitter @ShirinSadeghi