We celebrate International Women’s Day on the 8th of March every year to honour the achievements of women in various fields. This celebration acknowledges the women personalities not only who have excelled in their own fields, but also those unsung women heroines who are our sisters and mothers.
This is a day to commemorate the original cradle of our existence, our own mothers’ womb; a day to recollect the first hands that knit our bodies, those women who nursed at our birth; a day to remember the unseen source of power and motivation behind every man – the wives. Accordingly, Women’s Day is for the entire humanity to celebrate, a day of human fraternity, belongingness and our universal human communion.
The theme for the International Women’s Day 2021 was “Choose to Challenge.” Challenge is often considered to be a masculine value and accordingly they may appear to be seemingly paradoxical. However, this paradox is only apparent as women are a powerful depository of challenge and confrontation. There is a uniquely different mode of challenge set up and shown by heroic and successful women.
The challenges set forth by women are radical. They undo our standards and norms of heroism and redo our values and value systems at the personal and societal levels. Certainly, the humanity needs to learn to choose the choices of challenge made by women in the in the past as well as in the present.
I am reminded of Svetlana Alexievich, the renowned Russian woman novelist who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. Her writings were described by the Nobel committee as a “monument to suffering and courage in our time." Well, there is a uniquely womanly heroism in her writings. She epitomized the unknown and unsung domains of human existence and human spirit. She narrated the agonies of the Russian women who were forced to participate in the World War II and their lamentations at having to walk amidst the piles of disfigured human bodies on the streets. While the male soldiers boasted of the number of heads they hunted, the women soldiers lamented the futility of war. This is the triumphant saga of the counter-cultural perceptions and worldviews from the perspective of the woman. This is the womanly way of choosing to challenge.
In her, Voices from Chernobyl, Alexievich narrates the courageous choice for love and life of a wife. To the nurses who told a woman who was holding her dying husband “that’s not a person anymore, that’s a nuclear reactor,” she retorted, “no this is my beloved.” In Zinky Boys, she gathers voices from the Afghan war: soldiers, doctors, widows and mothers. “I don’t ask people about socialism, I ask about love, jealousy, childhood, old age,” Alexievich writes in the introduction to Second-hand Time. “It never ceases to amaze me how interesting ordinary, everyday life is. There are an endless number of human truths … History is only interested in facts; emotions are excluded from its realm of interest. It’s considered improper to admit them into history. I look at the world as a writer, not strictly an historian. I am fascinated by people.”
I think Alexievich’s passion for life and picturing of the joys and beauties of life amidst sorrows and trials can be had only by a courageous woman who has made the most authentic and challenging choices in life.
Another Nobel laureate is Malala Yousafzai. Who would have thought that a teenager from Pakistan will go on to write a new chapter in the struggle against suppression of women and children? Her eternal motto was, “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen!” This is yet another celebrated story of right choices, courageous choices and challenging choices.
Another girl, named Arunima Sinha, little did she know that one day her whole life will turn upside down when a group of robbers attacked and pushed her out of the moving train when she resisted, sustaining severe injuries and doctors had to amputate her leg. But she surprised everyone by resolving to climb the Mount Everest in 2011. She turned the impossible into possible when she became the first Indian amputee to climb the Mount Everest. Instead of being discouraged she crossed all obstacles in her way and went on to etch her name in the history of India.
There are numerous examples of ordinary women of our time who chose to challenge and emerged as winners.
Looking at the present Covid scenario, we see women at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, as front-line healthcare workers, as scientists, doctors and caregivers. Women not only give birth to life, but she also protects and nurtures life when it is most threatened. Covid world testifies to this eternal truth.
Despite all these stories about women, estimates say that women under 30 are less than 1 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide. Hence, this year’s International Women’s Day is a rallying cry for “Gender Equality”, to act for an equal future for all. It will draw leaders, visionaries, and activists from around the world, safely on a virtual platform, to push for transformative and lasting changes for generations to come.
Thus, let’s recognize the significance of women in our lives and inspire them for greater achievements as they can contribute equally to home, society, and nation. On this day let us remember the importance and significance of women in every person’s life.
“Our words can change the whole world because we are all together,” that is how Malala Yousafzai concluded her speech at the United Nations. When Malala started her speech, she was seen by everyone as a young girl with a huge story behind her, but that day, it was her words in favour of equality for girls and women that made her wise in everyone’s eyes. And her words have also echoed all around the world! But Malala was not the only one to raise her voice.
Over the years, more and more people have joined the movement for gender equality. So, what better way to celebrate International Women’s Day than through their voice, their strength and their conviction? Let these women inspire us to be brave and never let anyone or anything stop us from being the best version of ourselves. Let us salute the undying spirit of women who choose to challenge and make a difference in the world.
In tune with the motto of this Women’s Day, let us remember that the future of humanity rests on its ability to choose the choices and challenges made by women across the world, a challenging choice to look back nostalgically into the lost Edens of our womanly past, our motherly past, our feminine past, of our communion with our own inner selves, with our fellow human beings and with our mother nature.
(The writer is Assistant Professor, Don Bosco College, Maram, Manipur)