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'Uphill battle'

Dr Sushil K Sharma
Thursday, March 08, 2018

INTERNATIONAL Women's Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8 every year. It commemorates the movement for women's rights.

The United Nations (UN) began celebrating IWD in 1975, International Women's Year. In 1977, the UN General Assembly invited member states to proclaim March 8 as the UN Day for women's rights and world peace.

Women have struggled for centuries for many things, leave aside their rights towards equality with men. Our global societies have been very unfair to women in many ways, who have been made to work like slaves in our communities, subjected to systematic mass rape, torture, and sexual abuse that has continued to be weapons of choice in armed conflicts and war.

Women have been subjected to exploitation and the deprivation of the most basic of things like the liberty to seek education, speak their minds, fair wages on par with men for similar work and even access to sports, recreational and other form of entertainment similar to men in many nations.

In some nations they are not allowed to drive a motor vehicle; nor able to go shopping alone - without an elder male relative as an escort; or allowed to work, except in an office reserved exclusively as a women's shop or bank.

In some nations a woman is not allowed to be taught by a male academic except from a distance by video conferencing.

Women are not allowed in meetings and decision making fora in many societies which are normally reserved for men.

Women in some societies are subjected to female genital mutilation, also known as female genital cutting and female circumcision. This practice often also involves piercing, cutting, removing or sewing closed all or part of a girl's or woman's external genitals for no medical reason at all.

The practice is deeply rooted in gender inequality, attempts to control women's sexuality, and ideas about purity, modesty and beauty. Female circumcision prevents women from having an orgasm, and men in some societies support its use to reduce excessive sexual desire in women, trying to "control" women in their societies from "immoral acts".

Breast ironing, also known as breast flattening, is the pounding and massaging of a pubescent girl's breasts, using hard or heated objects, to try to make them stop developing or disappear. The most widely used implement for breast ironing is a wooden pestle normally used for pounding tubers.

Women continue to be subjected to domestic violence by men, who treat them with utter contempt and women often are unable to report to the police, or get timely medical help.

The issue of "authority" of the men comes into play for many societies, where men have historically been provided with superior rank as the "head" of the household or family tree.

Women and children are trafficked all around the world by men, who either sell them to other parties, or use them for prostitution in red light districts globally, where they are still controlled by criminal syndicates. Living in fear for their lives, women remain silent and this type of exploitation continues unabated.

Women and children have been the major victims in times of drought and war where nations, like Ethiopia for example, have lived with humiliation, allowing almost half a million of its citizens, of which three quarters are women and children, to live under deplorable conditions simply because it wanted to give peace a chance — for which this gender segment unfairly paid the highest price.

Though in many nations there have been improvements, and some nations and societies are much better off than others, in the main, we can emphatically say that for women it has always been an uphill battle in their lives in the quest for their rights globally; seeking fairness, peace, health, representation in parliaments or a global voice.

The main culprits historically are the world's "male chauvinist pigs" who even to this day have "controlled" everything in women's lives.

Things are slightly different in Melanesian, Polynesian and Micronesian societies where specific men and women's roles are intertwined and often integrated within the context of the varying roles men and women have.

In Pacific cultures, not "talking back" to men, during the act of showing respect - is often associated to being culturally submissive to men. This is often an area that needs society to be cautious of, as men often exploit these situations, taking advantage of women during these culturally sensitive moments and situations.

The range, extent and types of sexual harassment and discrimination vary from people to people, region to region and country to country. In many places women are unable to walk on the streets, where men belittle them with catcalls and harsh remarks, as to their physical sexual appeal to them. This happens often in our nation also.

Treating women like some sexual gratifying objects for "lusting men" who make prostitution continue to be the oldest profession in this world; women have to live with this norm globally for just about every single society. Women in our societies continue to be used as objects that could be dispensed with at the leisure of men's whims, where the rich and the famous often control their lives.

The fabric of our society in Fiji is also rapidly disintegrating. In relation to sexual offences towards minors, young girls and even women - Fijian men per capita ratio, remain in the higher offenders' category.

The global community through its efforts of the International Women's Day on March 8, tries its best to bring women's issues of interest to the fore annually by having a number of themes.

Since 1996 the UN has had some 22 different themes for the IWD like Women and Human Rights in 1998, Women and the Peace table in 1997, Women in Decision Making 2006, Investing in Women and Girls 2008, A Promise is a Promise: Time for Action to End Violence Against Women 2013, and Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030, for example. The theme for 2018 is: "Time is now: Rural and urban activists transforming women's lives".

During this annual IWD, prayers are with all the women of this world, who despite all the struggles to date, remain subservient to men globally. On this occasion we note and acknowledge that achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls is the unfinished business of our time, and the greatest human rights challenge in our world.

From grassroots campaigns to global movements, women's activism over the decades has paved the way for women's rights and a more equal future. If it was not for that, the world would have been a much more inhospitable planet for our habitation.

* Dr Sushil K Sharma BA MA MEng (RMIT) PhD (Melb) is an associate professor of meteorology at the Fiji National University. The views expressed are his and not that of FNU or this newspaper.

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