Dr. Khushbu Mishra
Before we blissfully wake up to celebrate women’s day and start wishing women around us “Happy Women’s Day”, I urge all of us to stop and think: Why do we celebrate Women’s Day? I started with a simple Google search and as per the UN website, “It is a day when women are recognized for their achievements without regard to divisions, whether national, ethnic, linguistic, cultural, economic or political.” The history goes such that in 1909, the first National Woman’s Day was observed in the United States on 28 February. The Socialist Party of America designated this day in honor of the 1908 garment workers’ strike in New York, where women protested against dire working conditions.
At a glance, it seems amazing that we would take a day off of our busy calendar to recognize the achievements of women. On the flipside, women have been discriminated against for centuries so we created a special day to smash together all women’s achievements to one-day all-women. While there are many ways to track gender discrimination, the Global Gender Gap Report is a noteworthy organization that benchmarks 144 countries regarding their progress on gender parity. They focus mainly on four themes: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. In addition, they collect data on the dynamics of gender gaps across industry talent pools and occupations. Not surprisingly, in the current turn of events around the world, data show that the gender gap is widening in many places. Clearly, celebrating women’s day has not worked but so hasn’t many other steps that we have taken since the first Charter of the United Nations, signed in 1945, an international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. In fact, at the present rate, it is estimated that gender parity across the world will take over two centuries, 217 years to be exact.
Let us move on from the data of the world to our home country, Nepal. In the interim constitution of 2007, women for the first time were given equal rights to property. They were also given the right to pass on their citizenship without the aid of their male partners. Where are we today? Yes, one would think that we could only progress, but alas, the Global Gender Gap report is a warning for regressive policies that have been the recent trends around the world, including Nepal. As of the most recent constitution, women cannot independently pass on their citizenship to their children without their husbands. Yes, in Nepal women are not equal citizens to men by the state, let alone the societal beliefs.
By portraying our women as less than men, we are telling our society that women are not dignified human beings. Perhaps this is why while the rest of the world (especially the western countries) have been able to gain momentum on the #MeToo movement, sexual victims in Nepal are still struggling to even file their cases against the perpetrators. As per a recent article in AlJazeera, an average of three rapes are reported in Nepal every day. It is important to note that this is the number of reported cases. Nobody knows how many are not reported given the social stigma attached to rape.
I urge all of us to take a moment to think about how over the years, we as individuals, may have perpetrated gender discrimination either consciously or subconsciously and what can we do to reduce our roles in such inhumane practice in the future? As for me, I was able to conduct a gender sensitivity workshop in a rural village of Nepal, funded by ANTA, with 60 families and was met by a positive feedback on the changing attitude of the society towards women and girls. Even if the state is lagging behind, I am confident that with our individual contributions, we it will not take 217 years for Nepali women to achieve gender parity.