Bonding and banding together to create planet 50-50 - Hindustan Times
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Bonding and banding together to create planet 50-50

ByHindustan Times
Mar 08, 2023 09:34 AM IST

The article has been authored by Suparna Banerjee. She is an academic and columnist based in Bengal and is the author of Science, Gender and History (CSP, UK).

Bonding and banding together to create planet 50-50(Twitter/Equalpay4wwomen) PREMIUM
Bonding and banding together to create planet 50-50(Twitter/Equalpay4wwomen)

There are days in our social calendar when it becomes hard to get away from platitudes. The International Women’s Day being one among those occasions, I think I would be pardoned for making the obvious statements that equality of power and privileges between men and women is a desirable goal for every society and that most countries around the globe are still far from attaining this ideal. While there are country-specific reasons for the prevalence of gendered injustice and inequality, one thing that seems universal is the absence of any sense of solidarity among women as a class in the general population of a country. To be sure, humanity has seen women coming together, notably during the suffragist movement in the UK and over the initial phases of the feminist movement in the United States (US) that started in the 1970s. But such formal political union of women, which became possible because of the passion and calibre of the exceptional few, does not hide the lack of a conscious sense of fellowship among women in general.

As we know, group identification has been at the root of all major libertarian movements in human history. Thus, when Karl Marx visualised a world that would treat workers fairly, he exhorted the Workers of the World (to) Unite; and the American Civil Rights Movement, which aimed to gain socio-legal equality for the Black people of the US, emerged out of their shared plight, common ancestry, and shared dreams. Indeed, so strong was the group identification and unity among the Black Americans then that it inspired an Afro-American cultural resurgence, the ‘Harlem Renaissance’, which resulted in a marvellous spurt of innovation and creativity in Black-centric poetry, music and theatre. Global womankind is yet to see this sort of spontaneous and intense group loyalty because we do not automatically support and nurture each other or think of each other as kin and comrade. And our fight against the patriarchy—the globally prevalent male-centric social system that legitimises our victimhood—naturally, gets hampered because of this.

As a matter of fact, this relative lack of camaraderie among women was one of the chief factors for the decline in the momentum of the women’s movement in the Anglo-American world. In the later decades of the twentieth century this led to the educated middle-class woman’s disengagement from the politics of patriarchy, and this self-centred complacent disinterest in what was happening to women around the world was often construed as the irrelevance of feminism itself. However, even a cursory look at the relevant data would tell us that gender-based violence, and inequality of access to healthcare, education and opportunities are still widely prevalent around the world. We still earn less than our male counterparts in most professions, and regressive gender stereotypes still limit our choices. These are true not only for African or Asian countries, but also for ‘developed’ Western nations. Indeed, in recent times, we have been witnessing a global rise in targeted attacks on women’s liberties. The roll-back in the US of abortion rights, the denial of education to girls in Afghanistan, and a rigid enforcement of the Islamic dress code in Iran are examples that come to mind.

As fundamentalist regressive politics sweep over the world, the time has come again for us women to renew our commitment to the fight against forces that curtail our freedom and undermine our human dignity. In order to do that, first of all, we need to strengthen our group identification and our sense of ‘sisterhood’. Patriarchy uses us against each other by teaching us to perceive ourselves primarily as objects of male desire and as parts of the traditional ‘family’. We are socialised to view each other as competitors and threats rather than as comrades, sisters, and friends. We have to subvert this patriarchal ploy by identifying with each other across the lines and the meshes of marriage and family. We have to support each other over and across the bounds of race, class, nationhood and ethnicity. Now that the hold of the hetero-normative family has started to get looser in parts of the world, this might be somewhat easier for us to do now than in the past.

On the International Women’s Day, as the United Nations floats the agendum of using information technology to educate, support, and empower women around the world (‘DigitAll’), the relatively privileged among us should pledge to see that the gains of feminism, particularly access to education, reach women below us in socio-economic terms. All of us should contribute personally to this global goal of uplifting and empowering women, because until the majority of us are free from oppression and want and ignorance, none of us is free from the dangers posed by the rise of authoritarianism and misogyny—as Margaret Atwood showed in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Therefore, let us this day commit to the goal of finding ourselves as a global collective, of finding the “we” that never truly existed beyond the formal confines of Anglo-American feminism—the “we” that Adrienne Rich evoked so eloquently in the poem ‘In Those Years.’ Instead of being engaged only in “trying to live a personal life”, each of us “reduced to I”, we should strive to find, again and again, “the meaning of we”—as we did recently in Iran, where our protests against the death in custody of one of our sisters forced the state to defang the repressive morality police. Sisterhood is indeed powerful. Let us make it real.

The article has been authored by Suparna Banerjee. She is an academic and columnist based in Bengal and is the author of Science, Gender and History (CSP, UK).

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