Two things caught my attention last week more than others: first, was the social media frenzy about International Women’s Day on March 8th
and the other a reflection about the purpose of life on my birthday - March 11th. My reflection on the latter is in another space and so let me share my thoughts about International Women’s Day - IWD as it is commonly referred to.
IWD is a day rooted in an historical struggle for greater gender justice and equal opportunity especially by and for women. While this struggle dates much longer, the 1908 Great March through New York City of about 15,000 people, mostly women demanding shorter working hours, better pay, voting rights, and its initial celebration on February 28th, the Copenhagen Conference in which a woman named Clara from the Social Democratic Party in Germany tabled the idea that was unanimously adopted of an International Women’s Day to be celebrated in very country to the adoption in 1975 when the UN celebrated the day for the first time, mark important milestones in the IWD’s historical timeline.
The total population of females in the world today is estimated 49.6% - virtually half of the world, which is one important reason to respect this day. However, more profoundly, we know that this better half of the world despite the significant role they play to hold the world together are not recognized, valued and supported to make their utmost contribution to the world beyond the confines society is has dictated and is comfortable with - thus, humanity is deprived of so much.
The gains the world community has registered towards gender justice and the progress Uganda has made is not one that was delivered as a charity by those who hold the helm of patriarchal institutions and our society today, these gains were hard fought for and so when our IWDs are dominated by celebratory dances, symbolic photo shoots and many jokes about the day as posted on many ‘whatsup’ platforms and online, and these are the activities we spend our times on, then there really is nothing transformative we are doing to advance the cause for gender justice – the day ends up as a passing public holiday with a few posts on various media platforms and heartily laughs.
Each one of us, needs to think about the real meaning of this day and if your activities did not push back the powers that hold women behind, if your actions did not lead to concessions or new commitments for gender justice and equal opportunity for women, then use your next 11 months to identify a real transformative action you can take beyond forwarding posts online.
Like the invention of the washing machine that saved women who went to water points and spent 6 hours washing clothes, our ‘Times Use Diaries’ administered in communities where we work show the average women spending more than 15 hours of her day in ‘unpaid care’ work usually confined to domestic spaces. We must demand a public policy response to many areas that ‘keep our women’ busy the whole day with little reward, recognition or societal value. We must challenge the heightened costs demanded of women aspiring for elective positions that make it very difficult for majority of women to access leadership positions without being compromised and we must do more about the silent exploitation of domestic workers in our country that reduce them to work-machines, sexual and other forms of oppression with no recourse to a living wage or justice.
To achieve the above is no mean feat - it will require a lot of money invested in research, mobilization and protest to challenge the power that many men hold. To be frank, greater empowerment of women will affect some of the privileges men have taken as natural since the overthrow, as some feminist literature suggests, of matrilineal societies 50,000 or so years and its replacement with a patriarchal ideology that remains dominant today. It is therefore a struggle that requires serious political mobilization and challenging the process of acquiring power, its use and abuse.
It is a call to (re) politicize the struggle for gender justice and not just participate in symbolic photo shoots and whatsup posts.
(The Writer is the Country Director of ActionAid Uganda)