International women’s day and a new horizon by Ayhan Ozer

“Women’s conditions will never change – until men change!”  Gloria Steinham

Each year on March 8 the world celebrates the International Women’s Day, and  salutes women around the world for their perpetual struggles to reinforce their civic rights. The world fully recognizes the enormous contributions that the women have made to our civilizations by elevating the standards of our society.  On this day the focus is on the rich potential of women which is a cherished gift for any society, and the world extends gratitude to women for this blessing. Also, on that occasion we are deeply conscious about the joint efforts needed to eliminate the hurdles that impede women from achieving their exalted goals.

The International Women’s Day concept was first recognized on March 8, 1908, the date New York textile workers – all women – called a strike to demand safer working conditions and to condemn child labor. On March 8, 1917, during WW I, this time women in Russia engaged in a strike for “Bread and Peace”. Four days later the Czar Nicholas abdicated, and the new government under Lenin, declared March 8 an official holiday celebrating “The Heroic Women Workers of Russia.”  In 1975 the United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day on the same day, March 8. Two years later, in December 1977 the  U.N. General Assembly adopted a Resolution proclaiming the ” Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace” to be observed by the member nations.

In those celebrations, usually the agenda is crowded with a whole range of women issues, such as equal access to health care, educational opportunities, jobs and equal pay, prevention of forced abortion and prostitution, female infanticide to evade dowry, genital mutilation, wartime and marital rape and honor killings. Other peripheral issues that are historically part of the fabric in certain societies are also introduced to the platform for addressing. For instance, in most countries medicine is slow to address the female-specific diseases, schools  short-change girls, and domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women. In certain die-hard societies the musty traditions are regarded by the male establishment as the foundation of their power. There are even religious injunctions against land and property ownership by women which relegate them to an economical pariah status. And, statistically about 60% of working women, worldwide, are sexually harassed at work.

On the bright side however, it is encouraging to see so many earnest women, even in the third world countries, strive to improve their conditions. Thanks to this newly raised consciousness more and more countries have taken positive steps in recognizing women’s plight and granting asylum to women fleeing inhuman conditions in their own countries, such as severe domestic abuse and various forms of culturally-motivated violence.

Since those early years, International Women’s Day has assumed a new global dimension. The growing awareness about women issues has become a rallying point to build support for women’s rights and their participations in the political, educational, economic as well as the artistic areas.

One persistent case in women issues is the women’s condition in Islamic countries. With the advent of Islam the lot of women had been hoped to improve. Alas, women’s social, educational and economic conditions in the Islamic countries are in a primitive level, mainly because Islam considers women inferior physically, intellectually and morally to men. A great majority of those abused women who seek asylum in the West come from Muslim countries in Africa, the Middle East, Iran, Afghanistan and Indonesia.

In those countries, the first visible hurdle for women to overcome is the dress code. Unless Muslim women discard their burqas, chador and head-scarves they can hardly achieve any progress in women’s rights. A woman with no face is deprived of her personhood, her name, her dignity, and her purchase on humanity.  A woman draped in cloth from head to toe can not be recognized in public, and therefore has no public persona, her existence is impersonal.

Any religion that requires total obedience without reasoning is not likely to produce people capable of critical thought with free and independent judgment. Such a situation is conducive to the development of a powerful clergy, and is  responsible for the intellectual, cultural and economic stagnation especially of women in the Islamic world for centuries. Before Muslim women can address any issue, the foremost battle they must wage is to revolutionize the way they present themselves in a society — both visibly and intellectually.

The International Women Day is a priceless opportunity to reflect upon the progress made by the heroic women all over the world. Also, it gives us inspiration and motivation to call for further changes and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and their communities.

ayhan313@comcast.net

Pennington, NJ

2nd March 2013