Think women’s work and safety this International Women’s Day
Violence and crimes against women have been steadily rising and reached a record high in 2018Updated: Mar 06, 2019 23:15 IST
In the week coming up to International Women’s Day, we have analysis of data on crimes against women in Mumbai – and it is not pretty at all.
Violence and crimes against women have been steadily rising and reached a record high in 2018. In the five years from 2013, the number of rape cases increased by 83% and molestation cases showed an increase of 95%, according to the analysis done by non-profit policy group Praja. There was an increase also in child sexual abuse cases with more girls than boys as survivors.
This has led to the classic debate — do the numbers indicate an increase in the incidence of rape and molestation, or do they reflect merely an increased reporting of these crimes? Long-time analysts of gender issues say it is more likely to be the latter but increased incidence of these crimes cannot be ruled out. What we know for sure is that at least 2,358 women were molested and no less than 792 women raped in 2017-18; there could well be more who did not report their attacks. This, in a city which is considered relatively safe for women, should make us think hard.
On the work front, the low number of women in the workforce in Mumbai should make us reflect on what the city offers its women and does not. Barely 16% of Mumbai’s women are in the workforce, well below the national average of 27% which is anyway lower than that of most nations. India’s female employment rate was 35% in 2005. The steady drop in the number of women in productive work is alarming. Why millions of women dropped out of the workforce should be the stuff of hard economic and social research.
But women’s safety and work are unlikely to occupy mind space or public discourse on March 8. In fact, on International Women’s Day too, there will likely be crimes against women.
Consumerist feminism and hashtag celebrations have turned International Women’s Day to one of tokenism. Advertisements for goods and services celebrate women while also objectifying them; companies offer women employees gift vouchers and spa coupons while doing little to address sexual harassment at the workplace; public places and services use some version of symbolic pink unmindful of the stereotype they are propagating; informal work does not even allow for tokenism; and there will be women vociferously claiming they are not feminists because feminism is all nonsense anyway with little understanding of its place in their lives.
It is easy to lose sight of the fact that International Women’s Day has its roots in socialism and labour movements – nearly 15,000 women workers in garment factories went on a strike to protest their abysmal working conditions in New York in February 1908 which was commemorated the following year as National Women’s Day by the Socialist Party of America. Two years later, at the Copenhagen Conference of Working Women, 100 women from 17 nations endorsed the idea of making it a worldwide celebration.
In 1917, thousands of women in the Russia of Tsar Nicholas II staged a strike for “Bread and Peace” amidst the First World War to protest severe food shortages and wild inflation. Among other things, this forced the Tsar to abdicate. Their strike began on February 23 according to the Julian calendar. In the Gregorian calendar, more widely used across the world, it was March 8. Decades later, in 1975, the United Nations began celebrating it as International Women’s Day during International Women’s Year.
If anything, it commemorates the day when working women rose as one and demanded their rights from exploitative capitalist structures. It observes women’s rights as part of human rights, gender equality at multiple levels of society, and it is a reaffirmation to advance the status of women across the world. It has everything to do with women’s rights, work and safety, nothing really to do with pink, free beer and discounted jewellery. In this day and age, it is necessary to remind all women – and men – about this.