WOMEN'S DAY SPEECH (2019)
Women’s Day Speech: 2019
Hello everyone, (good morning, good afternoon, good evening)
Happy International Women’s Day. My name is Banamallika, today is 8th March and I am here because it is International Women’s Day.
I love IWD because it is the only day when random women like me, get invited to talk on random things related or unrelated to women at random places. The rest 363 days of the year, women are asked to shut up, keep quiet, not make too much noise. Not that women ever listen to anything they are told to do and that is why we have International Women’s Day. But I am coming to that part of the story later.
I am a feminist and one of the few people who have a t-shirt saying so. Naturally I get invited to speak at many places each year on women’s day. As the second or third option always. It is only when the police officer, the actress, the writer, the journalist or the successful business woman has said she has other commitment is when the call comes to me.
Anyways, although I have neither beauty nor a job, on women’s day, my t-shirt is good enough credential. With this I go to different places and I talk this kind of deep meaningless things. Nobody ever invites me back. A few times I have been deservedly attacked for claiming to be a feminist and saying things like - we are yet to achieve women’s rights because rights and privileges are not the same. Just because few women have had opportunities for education, become CEOs and hired 4 domestic helps, all of whom are women, to look after her husband, in-laws, child and the cooking, does not mean women have equal status in society.
Believe me, I have been attacked by women achievers for saying this kind of demeaning things towards women and sent back with ugly, useless IWD mementoes that occupy valuable space in my rented house. I may have to rent another house to keep this year’s mementoes for there is no chance that my mother will write the only parental house as equal property between me and my brother. The house is his, and this little cottage that they have been using as a store room is mine - I have been told by my mother in a voice quivering with generosity and progressiveness. And yet I risk my life every year and go say things about how women are still treated not-so-equally in our society every year. I really should be careful of what I am saying.
My this year’s invitation list, for example, includes a college, a public meeting organised by an NGO, a kitchen equipment manufacturing company, a beauty pageant and an adventure tourism promoting camping site. All of them care deeply about women’s rights and promise to empower women. On 8th March, every year. Some of them will pay me some money in an envelope and shove the envelope in my hand just before I am about to leave. Like most women, the remuneration is not negotiated and it is so miniscule that if you do not put it in an envelope it might slip through the gap between your fingers. That is why there is a thing called gender pay gap. If you google, globally it is hovering at about 67%. Which mean for every 100 rupees earned by men, women earn only 67 rupees. And it is going to take more than 200 years for it to become 100 for men and 100 for women!
However, I do not for once doubt the good intention of these people, the same way I have never doubted all those advertisements selling faster working washing machines, chimney’s that suck all the cooking smoke so that women can rustle up delicious meal for their families and be appreciated or that women CEO’s have more power when they wear high heels and pencil pants. They truly believe women need to be empowered and they have just the right product to give all the power to women and make them look beautiful too. It is obviously the jealous women without jobs and beauty like me who say things like it is not women who need to be empowered but those barriers like burden of domestic work, gender pay gap and violence against women that need to be removed. For if we do, then we may have only women CEO’s and men may have to cook, clean and look after themselves.
My jealousy led me to snoop into the profiles of the people who have invited me to speak. And here is what I found out.
Governing body: 7 men and 3 women
Teaching staff: 28 women 16 men
NGO organising public meeting and working on women’s rights:
Governing body: 9 men 2 women
Staff: 32 men, 12 women
Executive director, programme manager, all co-ordinators – men
Kitchen equipment manufacturing company now wanting to spend CSR money on women’s empowerment:
Board: 4 men, 1 woman
Staff: no information available
It is already known all over the world that as things move upward in hierarchies one finds less and less women. Look at our governance system for example, we have willingly passed the 50% reservation for women in Panchayat bill. Let the poor practice equality. At the parliament, the 33% reservation bill has rotten and been forgotten. Globally only about 20% of parliamentarians are women. In India it is about 11%. There is no reservation in the Autonomous Disrtict Councils of North-East India. In the recently elected Autonomous District Council members in matrilineal Meghalaya, there are 2 women and 27 men. In Assam, the persentage of women MLA's dropped from 11% in previous assemby to 6.35% in the current one. According to the world economic forum and the gender pay gap report, only 34% of the mangers in the world are women.
Beauty Pageant: This one is meant for children with disabilities or mothers of children with disabilities I am told. Let me just roll my eyes a few times and mutter fuck this shit, fuck this shit, fuck this shit repetitively. What it is that when it comes to appreciating women or women with children or women with special children or women with special bodies that makes us think we have to bring in this thing called beauty? That by saying a one eyed person is beautiful too you are bringing in equality? Just stop saying that things have to be beautiful and paraded in front of everyone to prove it. Shift the focus from the look. Let people be. There is no empowerment in dressing up with market thrown cosmetics and notions of beauty even if you are doing it to a person sitting on a wheelchair or pushing one. Inclusiveness is not making marginalised people adhere to standards set by the powerful. Inclusiveness is allowing people to be different and do things differently.
Camping company: To promote their women's day event and women's travelling, they said, their camping site is meant for women who do not wear high heels and lipsticks. They got it back good from some women. Women asked them – what is wrong in wearing lipstick or high heels? Good questions women! My question is, if the event was meant for men, will they be saying – this camping site is for men who do not wear v-neck t-shirts and keep beards? Empowerment if aimed at equality and as rights cannot be for a selected group or conditional. Equality will be when everyone, whether they wear lipstick, burqa, keep beard or keep beards and still wear lipstick under a burqa, will be allowed to go camping.
One of the questions that comes up every year on women’s day is that why international women’s day and why not international men’s day? Or that every day is a women’s day. Fuck you! I mean for once, can we have one day to our name. Men already have father’s day, valentine’s day, teacher’s (50 or highland cream) day, world AIDS day, independence day and of course martyr’s day. Jokes apart, seriously people, do not be jealous. There is an international man’s day. It is on 19th November.
I am a bit tired of making logic and giving data every women’s day to explain the significance of women’s day and that it is not a day to celebrate womanhood (whatever that is) but the exact opposite of day. It is a day marked to acknowledge the women’s collective fight that has allowed futuristic possibilities like voting, decent working hours (yes, the 8 hour work day if a gift from the women worker’s movement), to have access to luxuries like education and healthcare and rights to make decisions about one’s own life and over our bodies. I am copy pasting a post by Neha Singh where she was explaining the history of women’s day to some ad saying every day is a woman’s day. Trust me if every day was a women’s day it would mean we all be cooking, cleaning, rearing children and looking after the sick, elderly and husbands and getting beaten black and blue in as payments. There won’t even be automatic washing machines or detergent powders that remove stains if women did not want to come out of the house and take on additional burden of earning money. Without the women’s movement, the women would have all the time to rub stains off their husband’s shirt collars and cook with firewood smoking the whole place up in the homes.
“1. According to popular belief, women garment workers held a protest for their rights in New York on 8th March, 1857 (Yes, 1857)
2. In 1909, Theresa Malkiel, a labour rights activist and women's rights activist initiated a 'National Women's Day' in America, in the month of March.
3. In 1919, in March, over a million people celebrated women's day in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. This day was proposed as Women's Day by several women who were fighting for the right to vote for women in these countries. This year they finally won the right to vote after protesting for many many years.
4. On March 8th, in London, 1914, a women's rights activist was arrested because she was fighting for women's right to vote.
5. On March 8th, 1917, women textile workers in Russia, held a protest demanding the end of World War One, the end of Czarism, and the shortage of food.
6. Dolores Ibarruri, a Spanish women's rights activist started a protest in Madrid on 8th March, 1936, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War.
7. Finally, in 1977. The U.N. decided to adopt 8th March as 'International Women's day' in memory of all the great work done by women activists around the world to fight for rights for women.
Clealry, 8th March is celebrated across the world in honour, memory, tribute to these wonderful women and many more that we dont know about, who fought against patriarchal societies so that women are not treated as second class citizens.” – from Neha Singh’s facebook post.
And then there is thing about this thing called womanhood that we need to celebrate. Now in all these years of owning this feminist t-shirt I have not been able to figure out what that means? What is womanhood – is it long hair, soft skin, seductive eyes, that slight bending of the neck while you smile shyly, the coyness, the mother who stays up all night to feed the new born while she bleeds all over the place, the wife who wakes up earlier than her husband and makes coffee and gets breakfast ready, cooks for the whole family and leaves at the same time as her husband for work, the sister who ties rakhi on her brother and asks him for his protection because she knows she is not safe in this world, is it the wife who will not get property in her father’s family because she is married and will not get property in her husband’s family because she is not from their family? I am not even going to talk about women from marginalised situations - poor, of lower caste, migrants, refugees, domestic workers, landless farmers, forest dwellers, women whose names are not there in NRC and the regularity with which women face violence at home and outside everywhere in the world. More than half of the world’s poorest people are women. These poor women have no property rights, equal income, payment for domestic work, social security, freedom from violence, a BMW or Lancome makeup for the eye.
So what it is about womanhood that is there to celebrate? If there is anything to be celebrated then it is the fact that women for a long time now have been defying this womanhood and saying we do not want to be this way. We do not want to be exploited, we do not want to exploit. We do not want war, we do not want profit making at the cost of people’s lives, we do not want the destruction of this earth in the name of economic growth. We have recognised the patriarchal bull-shit and we have been shouting against it. We have not and will not keep quiet. We will go on working for the equal, inclusive, just world we dream of. This woman’s day is to celebrate the defiance and I do not mind taking 4 more ugly mementoes to spread the struggle.
Note: This is the first women’s day speech I have written. I intend to repeat it everywhere and every year till things have changes. At least till they pass the 33% reservation at parliament.
Banamallika Choudhury is a feminist social activist. She runs NEthing, between pillars and posts and here and there and writes when she cant't run anymore.
This speech was put up in Banamallika's blog Chronicles of Nonsense