When is it?
It is held on 8th March every year.
What is it?
International Women’s Day (‘IWD’) is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity.
The UN theme in 2017 for International Women’s Day is “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”. (Not such a snappy title – no one is going to remember that).
- The world of work is changing, with significant implications for women. On one hand, technological advances and globalization bring unprecedented opportunities for those who can access them. On the other hand, there is growing informality of labour, income inequality and humanitarian crises.
- Against this backdrop, only 50 per cent of working age women are represented in the labour force globally, compared to 76 per cent of men. What’s more, an overwhelming majority of women are in the informal economy, subsidizing care and domestic work, and concentrated in lower-paid, lower-skill occupations with little or no social protection. Achieving gender equality in the world of work is imperative for sustainable development.
- The United Nations observance on 8 March will call upon all actors to Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030 by ensuring that the world of work works for all women.
- The upcoming sixty-first session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), from 13 – 24 March, at UN Headquarters will deliberate on “Women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work.”
The IWD website has a separate theme which is #BeBoldForChange (and yes that hashtag is part of the official title – a sign of the times.) The intention is to encourage women to forge a better world of work which is more inclusive and gender equal.
The Overseas Women’s Club of Bangalore held an event called “Be Bold for Change” at Fava restaurant, UB City in the centre of Bangalore. The three hugely inspirational speakers were Kaveri Sinhji, Dr Aloma Lobo and Devika Krishnan.
There were some technical difficulties at the start and we all had to move upstairs for the talk. The technology still refused to cooperate properly so the presenters slides could not be seen or heard. Despite this, the speakers were engaging and fascinating. The OWC President commenced the meeting by encouraging us all to be “there for each other”. We were living in a different country and as a consequence did our friends, neighbours and helpers know who to contact in an emergency? It was a sobering thought and I resolved to share some emergency numbers with relevant people – just in case.
Kaveri Sinhji is the owner of BlueFoot Tours and also runs a company called One World. She is a psychologist and cultural historian whose passion is to bridge cultural divides by finding similarities rather than differences in people.
In 2009 she set up a non judgmental customised tours eneterprise on a pay what you think basis. Her first customers were from north India and she spent 3 days giving them a cultural and shopping tour at the end of which they paid her ₹50 and ₹100 ! It was a steep learning curve but she remain non judgmental. She continued (persevering with fiscal and medical difficulties) and developed a company which in 2017 has 8-12 tours a day in Bangalore. She felt it was a lonely journey not only as a woman in a man’s world but also because there were no natural competition. She did say that she felt she had the advantage as a woman as people believed what she said and didn’t challenge her. Her company is expanding into four other countries next month.
Dr Aloma Lobo is a christian and pediatrician with 6 children, 3 of whom are adopted. She has worked with the World Health Organisation taking over the Voluntary Coordinating Agency for Adoption and specialises in the promotion of awareness of supporting adoption of children with special needs.
Dr Aloma said that most people in India think adoption is a remedy for sterility and charity and very few people or families adopt children with special needs; in fact she stated she knew of only 6 families that did so. That fact alone is quite shocking in a country so hugely populated.
She asked us how do we see these abandoned children with special needs, do we value these children as in need of love support and a family? She said Indian people are looking for a pretty and fair girl who is light skinned. The reason they give is”how are [they] going to marry her otherwise?” People have many deep seated doubts and fears. If a family already has one child the bias then comes from the agencies who will state that “As you already have one child you won’t feed them well”. On top of these difficulties an attitude change was needed to allow a single person to adopt and single men especially.
Special needs children are usually older and difficult to place as they have hospital needs, genetic disorders and other problems. Sibling groups were even harder. Many (80%) are girls. Some wealthy families will give away (aka abandon) girls with a disability (e.g. blindness) to avoid a stigma on the family. There were also religious beliefs affecting people’s actions and viewpoints; a child with a disability may be seen as a curse or evidence that they have done something bad in a previous life.The greatest disability the children have is the disability of rejection – “why are they given away when they needed their parents the most?”
She asked “How do [you] initiate change for children with special needs?” and went on to say that change is never change unless you make the change in your own life. She asked us to give a child with special needs the value they deserve as they are worthy of a family. It’s an obvious message and sad that it is one she believes she still has to deliver in 2017.
Devika Krishnan is an industrial designer and is setting up a woman’s enterprise in Nellurhalli called Joy at Work, upcycling tetrapaks, cement sacks and scrap fabrics into “lifestyle products “. Devika believes if everyone helps one person less fortunate the world will be a better place.
Devika started by telling us she had a very matriarchal and very laid back upbringing. Her father was a general in the army and the family went with every posting, whether to a remote village or a border dispute. She worked in the corporate and craft sector as a designer but is drawn with people and drawn to women in particular. She currently has 10 projects a year running in between designing at work. Her philosophy is that “all it takes is to have trust and faith in one another”.
India ranks 105 out of 130 countries in the world on the gender gap index. 70% of women live in villages and 150 work days a year are spent by women to fetch water for the home. In addition “population in the slums is going to increase by 119m”. Women (actually children) in the slums get married between the ages of 12-16 and migrate with the men when they get work. Marriage is at puberty to avoid them becoming abused by other men as the family homes in the slums don’t have doors and are open. It’s a shocking thought and sad the facts are simply accepted.
As a consequence of these facts Devika set up a project called Anu Life. Her approach is that she brings in change as a designer and watches the change happen. She taught the ladies of the slums to weave and sew baskets and bags out of tetra packs and cement bags. These are then sold in some shops, markets, melas and events around Bangalore. A lot of expats have something from Anu Life as they are very useful and very sturdy as well as being good value for money. Initially volunteers took care of education and healthcare so Devika could concentrate on the business. She told us about the challenges and antics of having to set up a registered company for a slum project – it was certainly interesting! Eventually the project was so successful that an NGO invested in it and Devika moved on to other projects, including the latest called Joy at Work.
It was a privilege to listen to the inspirational speakers and learn about them too.
After the talks we moved downstairs to the restaurant for a (late) lunch at Fava. Unfortunately the service was very slow and despite chasing for lunch several times I eventually left on the school run after only having a few mouthfuls.
Other events in Bangalore
The Department of Women and Child Development of Youth Services and Sport organised a sports meet for women at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium. Women working in government departments, anganwadis*, self help groups and Stree Shakti groups**, under the jurisdiction of the Bengaluru Urban District, participated; participants were eligible for special leave on the day.
The Hindu newspaper profiled several women who have been leading some of the school gnificant projects and developments in Bangalore. These included Chitra R, the sole woman civil engineer in the Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation, who was responsible for the building of the MG Road and Trinity metro stations. Other profiles were of the badly treated pourakarmikas***, the garment sector and the waste management system, all dominated by poorly paid and treated women. The Hindu stated: “To many, these women may seem pushy and uncompromising, but it is these very qualities that has turned them into role models”. The paper also carried several adverts celebrating “women’s day”.
The Smoke House Deli, a restaurant, offered a free glass of sangria or house wine for every woman visiting the restaurant on 8th March.
Sanchez in UB City had a Women’s Day DJ night (dress code “pink”) with DJ Daniela da Silva celebrating “womanhood” from 10pm.
Mums and stories organised a ‘Mums and Stories’ walk in Lalbagh Gardens at 5:30pm on 7th March.
In the Ukraine it is traditional to give all the ladies of the house a flower in International Women’s Day. This then extends to offices and places of work.
Although not our tradition, Rez took this up and bought both me and Zahra a lovely bunch of flowers each for IWD.
Wherever you are and whatever you do, take time to celebrate the women in your life today. They are amazing.
* Anganwadi is a government sponsored child-care and mother-care center in India. It caters to children in the 0- 6 age group. The word means “courtyard shelter” in Hindi.
** Streeshakti groups cover poor, needy and physically handicapped women either engaged in small business activities or keen on establishing small business activities through groups that enable them to become self reliant and improve their economic and social status.
*** pourakarmikas is a general term used for people who sift through rubbish, separating it into recyclable objects, dry waste and wet waste. It is also used for those who deal with chemical waste and general junk.