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Why I’m Not Celebrating International Women’s Day.

Rajasthan salt lake, Rajasthan offbeat, Rajasthan village

If I had a dime for each time someone asked me what it was like to travel alone, as a woman, or called me brave for travelling far and wide, as a woman, I’d be a millionaire. The one thing definitely more challenging about travelling solo as a woman, is that people look at you with concern, pity even, for being without a man to carry your things, or find your way around. Having circled the edges of being a feminist, I’ve now strongly started to feel that this relentless victimization, more than anything else, is the root cause of so many challenges faced by women.

We have started to put women on a separate pedestal as much as possible. Separate queues for women, separate compartments for women, and absurdly, even separate banks for women! These pedestals clearly imply, that women are neither as strong nor as safe as men, and gradually become self-fulfilling prophecies – because as women, we unquestioningly accept that we are the victims, and leads the men to subconsciously assume either a protectionist or a predatory stance.

When an unfortunate incident recently happened in Turkey with a solo female traveller, many people questioned why she was travelling alone, as a woman; it is exactly these reactions that stem out of a culture of victimization. I loved how Amanda, who blogs at A Dangerous Business, used statistics to prove that men at home (in the US as much as in India) are greater victims than women on the road. The difference, as Amanda points out, is that the continued portrayal of women as victims remains media gold, the stuff that sells, and the stuff we prefer to buy.

I was recently asked to speak at a business forum about the challenges of being a female entrepreneur. I immediately asked the organizers if there was an equivalent workshop for male entrepreneurs. No, came the answer, with a giggle, as though it would be the most outlandish thing in the world. It’s exactly how people will smirk at the idea of an International Men’s Day. A friend of mine often jokes that if you run any conference themed around ‘women’, you’ll find an audience, as though we are a different species altogether.

I’m not looking away from all the pressing issues facing women in India, nor am I belittling the role of activists for women’s rights, who have undeniably got us this far. But let’s ask ourselves, is that really what International Women’s Day is about today?

So what I’m not celebrating today is constantly victimizing women, putting them on pedestals and congratulating their achievements, only because they are women. I would urge you too, to stop Tweeting and Facebooking about the ridiculous notion of a day being specifically dedicated to women.

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I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives.

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33 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for posting this, which resonates a lot. Could it be also guilt by men? On the other hand, this day could be better employed to do away with injustices rooted in differences of any gender. Surely your opinion reflects how you’ve personally evolved – a most probable example for all individuals seeking to find their own space for self-expression.

    March 8, 2013
    • I think part of the guilt also stems from the constant victimization, and the notion that all men should be guilty, which is not true. Agreed, that the day could be better employed to do away with injustices, but then there shouldn’t be just one day dedicated to that.

      March 12, 2013
  2. *clap clap* .. when the mind doesn’t see any inequality, there is no place for inequality .. really well written! and good to see someone feeling they are on par with men. not superior, not inferior…

    March 8, 2013
    • It’s high time we start removing this sense of inequality when we speak to our friends / family too!

      March 12, 2013
  3. Reblogged this on Travel Freely and commented:
    Celebrating International Gender Day!!

    March 8, 2013
  4. Very well written and great view… :) Same question always comes in my mind, “Why someone need a special day or facilities to get recognition?” There should be a feeling of equality in everyone.

    March 8, 2013
    • We need to start debating it with our friends & family too. One person at a time.

      March 12, 2013
  5. AHB #

    I agree. Celebrations that are group-specific generally end up hurting that group while giving a false sense of progress.

    March 8, 2013
    • Especially when they encourage victimization rather than bringing out the real issues.

      March 12, 2013
  6. You just spoke my heart! Today afternoon, I had a discussion with two of my friends who were wishing women’s day to each other and asked me why I did not wish them. My replies were very similar to what you wrote in this article.
    I told them why I felt women centric politics by our government will only alienate them rather than making them an equal citizen of the country. These women-only banks,women specific development programmes are slowly creating a form of gender apartheid,alienating women and forcing them to move into a protective shell, rather than consolidating the fact that they are safe and equal anywhere in the country.
    They argued saying nothing is equal in our society and pointed at me saying how easy it was for me to wander at will and take part in adventurous activities, just because I am a man.
    I told them about you and a few other women travelers and adventurers who have thrown away their misconceptions into thin air, already.
    I congratulate you again on your achievements, not because you are a woman, but because you have broken the stereotype, you have redefined the whole concept around woman emancipation and why we don’t need these special days and programmes based on a specific gender.

    March 8, 2013
    • Glad you’ve started having these conversations, Arnab! It’s very important to make everyone (men and women) realize that a large part of the victimization is in our minds. And that’s a road we don’t need to walk on; we have more serious battles to fight.

      March 12, 2013
  7. idlysambar #

    I am an Indian male and I have been doing solo, independent travel for over 20 years now. I have never come across an Indian woman travelling solo. The Indian looking women that I have come across in my travels have all turned out to be either Indian American or British Indian. For that matter, seldom have I come across an Indian male travelling solo. Most Indians seem to travel in large groups/families, go on package tours, stay aloof from local society, avoid eating local food and gorge solely on Indian food. It is a tiny miniscule minority of Indians that do solo, independent travel. This has been my experience.

    March 8, 2013
    • I know what you mean, but I think this is slowly and gradually changing. We can all play a small role here, encouraging our own friends and acquaintances to travel solo, experience a place like the locals do, and break the stereotypes of how Indians travel. India Untravelled is my humble attempt to this end.

      March 12, 2013
  8. I currently work at the centre for human rights at my university and this is a topic that is dear and close to my heart. I’ve never agreed with women-only compartments and services (what’s up with women-only subway compartments in Japan?). I agree that the segregation does nothing but reinforce the idea that women are weak and need to be separated from the other half of the human race to stay safe. Which by the way I would find incredibly insulting if I were a man.

    However, I do believe that we need to address the fact that gender-based violence exists and tackle it in a way where we confront the fact that being a woman IS getting the short end of the stick in so many places in the world…but it SHOULDN’T be. Domestic violence is overwhelmingly a problem of women being hurt by men exerting power. Women are underrepresented in politics and earn less on average for the same work. Girls grow up in societies where they are not valued and casual misogyny has become normalized. You are right in that the media is victimizing women and this media misrepresentation of women only perpetuates the cycle of violence in real life. There needs to be a strong collective voice that opposes that. I see International Women’s Day as a way to celebrate the strides made in women’s rights, acknowledge that there are women still suffering and take steps towards ending that. It isn’t about women superiority or guilting men like some people like to think (not yourself of course). We need to tell girls that don’t have to be victims and shouldn’t be. It’s about support, education and empowerment and this can only be done if we face the problem straight on. If you look at some of the work that organizations have done targeting girls you’ll see that investing in a girl’s education will completely transform the trajectory of her life and can empower her entire community. This is only possible since they recognized the fact that girls were being ignored and barred from education, often married off before they are out of their teens. Really we should be engaging in critical dialogue and taking steps about these problems every day but sometimes a day like IWD is needed to help thrust these issues into the spotlight for those who are misinformed or unaware. Unfortunately some people don’t celebrate IWD in this way and instead just have a simplistic “yay girls! boo boys” message but I think the people who closely follow the United Nations IWD initiatives are sticking to what IWD should really be about.

    Thanks if you actually read this whole ramble ha.

    March 9, 2013
    • Sarah,

      Thank you for your comment. Yes, I read all of it and couldn’t agree more. Very well put. While I agree with the ideology that upholding the rights of women, fighting against the biases and even the celebration of being a women is something that shouldn’t be marginalized to one single day, I see absolutely nothing wrong in using the one day as an opportunity to bring to the forefront issues as well as opinions surrounding women in general all over the world.

      The idea is to use this one day as a platform. Problems about women exist and it really isn’t about superiority or inferiority of a particular gender. It’s about awareness. What I would rather urge is for people to actually understand what the day signifies rather then exchange empty congratulatory messages with each other.

      Shivya,

      This is by no means a personal attack. To a large extent I agree with the points of your post but at the same time I really don’t see anything wrong with the idea of IWD. I admire everything that you stand for as an individual ( not just as a women) and if anything, I feel this day can be used for inspiring other women to be more and do more.

      Priyanka

      March 9, 2013
      • Sarah, Priyanka, thanks for your very relevant comments. In fact, I agree with both of you. There is nothing wrong with a day that brings real issues to the forefront; my rant is about what IWD has become today (maybe I should’ve uploaded screen shots of some FB statuses and tweets here!), and even more about the culture of victimization. There are real issues, and then there are issues that stem out of victimization; we need to get rid of the latter to start fighting the former!

        March 12, 2013
  9. Madhuri #

    Totally and absolutely agree with you! i used to think of the same…. this just means that the rest of the days of the year are for men???

    March 9, 2013
    • Exactly where the inequality comes into play – we segregate everything so much that we can’t help but think in terms of what’s for men and what’s for women.

      March 12, 2013
  10. The fact that you can travel alone is a result of the fight started by women a century ago. While I don’t necessarily see the point of International women’s day, anything that highlights the lingering inequalities can’t hurt. Perhaps men need to oganise a day for themselves.
    I am old enough to remember a time when married women could not work in many positions and hed to resign when they married. This seems ridiculous now, but it was only 40 years ago. Big steps have been made and there are many more to be made.
    There is a lovey tradition here in Italy to give a woman you love a bunch of mimosa, and I saw many happy women of all ages happily carrying a little bunch of cheerful yellow flowers. Perhaps this day is really just a chance to show that we appreciate our mothers, sisters, aunts and friends.
    I will leave you with a quote from Gloria Steinem…”The story of women’s struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organistaion, but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”
    A better future for women means a better future for everyone. While you may not agree with the methods to acheive it, equality and respect for women still has a way to go, and if International Women’s Day makes people think about this it is a good thing.

    March 9, 2013
    • If International Women’s Day makes people think about the strides that women have made in history, then yes! But coming from a country where many women just accept that they have to do things a certain way, or live a certain way, JUST because they are women, I feel like even the notion of having a women’s day propels that culture of victimization.

      March 12, 2013
  11. Well, I also don’t agree with reservation for women at every platform, but I don’t think that this day has anything to do with our inferiority. It’s a fact that women have been dragged behind in every aspect. As you have also accepted that works by organizations have helped in today’s girl empowerment. Things have just started changing, in fact, still many…..many girls are deprived basic rights just because they are girls.

    This day is more of an empowerment.

    Happy International Women’s Day! :)

    March 10, 2013
    • I agree Gayatri, that many girls are deprived basic rights just because they are girls, but reservation at every platform often implies that girls are being given something ‘extra’ or more privileged, not because of their talent or capability, but because they are girls. It’s exactly like reservation quotas for minorities. It’s a vicious cycle.

      March 12, 2013
  12. Jenny Shetty #

    Back from my trip to kolkata so a serious back log on the posts. This one is a hard hitting one. Not too long and to the point. Its time things stop happening SPECIALLY for women. Lets just call all ourselves as humans with NO GENDER bias whatsoever!

    March 10, 2013
    • That would be an ideal world for sure. But before we get there, we have many serious battles to fight! Hope the Kolkata trip was awesome :)

      March 12, 2013
  13. Sujatha Sadananda #

    Dear Shivya, I truly appreciate your thoughts. 3 days back i participated in the DNA Marathon (only for women) at Mumbai and there were a couple of celebrities who had attended the event to encourage the runners. So Mickey Mehta, celebrity fitness trainer was present and he is encouraging all the runners by saying “Women are a superior gender.” And i did wonder why did he have to make a statement like that. No gender is superior or inferior. Irrespective of whether we are a male or a female, at the end of the day we are all human beings and we all deserve to be treated in a humane manner. I think that’s when we will have a safe and progressive society. Thank you for sharing your views.

    March 13, 2013
  14. Swati #

    Kudos to you Shivya to have expressed a thought which is so deep rooted in our society. I so very well relate to it because I am living the life of this ‘difference’. I am a traveler and have often faced flask from my family and relatives that though I am an independent woman but that doesn’t mean that I can go places and explore alone. A venture of mine will never work, after all I am expected to get married one day. Thanks to my will power and dream, I have resisted this time and again. But again its frustrating to see when your male counterparts gets the leverage, because they are guys and can take care of themselves properly. This make me to re-think, will this difference ever exit !!!

    March 14, 2013
  15. Alayna Kurpinski #

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    April 7, 2013
  16. Indrani Bordoloi #

    Well Written Words, appreciate and agree :)

    March 8, 2014
  17. Soham Banerjee #

    What I can give you is a Big Thumbs up for the mentality U possess. It’s high time people(men and women) introspect whether we really need this Day to be celebrated.

    March 8, 2014
  18. I couldn’t agree more! x

    March 9, 2014
  19. Blue #

    When my friend reminded me that it was International Women’s day, my only reaction was that these sort of “days” are usually there to remind others that the subject in question is under appreciated. I’m not interested in just a day to remind others that my gender is under appreciated, and for all the patriarchy to kick in the next day again.

    March 10, 2014
  20. Gemma Wood #

    This certainly is a different view on the topic. I don’t see any reason why men and women shouldn’t have different things to celebrate. There are men’s organisations and women’s organisations which both do amazing things in this world. I don’t believe everything we do needs to cater completely to both genders. However I do believe that both genders should have equal access to opportunity to make their own way. Celebrate International Women’s Day. Any opportunity for people to come together for to celebrate achievement and strive towards improving the world is positive in my opinion, irrespective of what gender you are.

    March 12, 2014

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