The year was 1908. 15,000 women took to the streets throughout the city of New York. While they marched, they had placards with their demands, demands which they also chanted in chorus. They demanded for shorter working hours, better pay, and voting rights. In 1975, the United Nations recognized an official celebration of International Women’s Day. From 1975, International Women’s Day has since been an official holiday in 27 countries of: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, China, Cuba, Georgia, Guinea-Bissau, Eritrea, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Madagascar, Moldova, Mongolia, Montenegro, Nepal, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, and Zambia.
In 5 days, it will be international women’s day. This year’s theme is “Inspiring Change”. Again, we shall be celebrating women and their achievements and how they inspire the world.
Women are celebrated because history has not been kind to them. The constitution regards women as a vulnerable group. Article 21(3) states thus:
“All State organs and all public officers have the duty to address the needs of vulnerable groups within society, including women, older members of society, persons with disabilities, children, youth, members of minority or marginalized communities, and members of particular ethnic, religious or cultural communities”
The constitution of Kenya 2010 (the constitution) makes provisions meant to lift women from the above mentioned vulnerability. For example, article 27 (3) provides for equality of women and men including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres. The national Assembly has forty-seven women, each elected by the registered voters of the counties, each county constituting a single member constituency; the Senate has sixteen women members who are nominated by political parties. For every Public Commission, slots for women are guaranteed.
In short, international women’s day is about the celebration of women emancipation and all efforts to reach the peak of women emancipation.
What is women emancipation?
Women emancipation is the freedom of women from all social, political and economic restrictions.
But why do women need to be emancipated?
Historically, women have been objects and subjects to their male counterparts. A number of factors caused this, and they can be classified into three:
- Economic causes
- Social causes
- Political causes
Men have been the predominant bread winners in many families across the globe for many years. Whereas circumstances seem to be changing, the reasons why women are dependent on men for their economic wellbeing is rooted in the social causes:
Historically, women were not allowed to have formal education. Schools were a preserve of the men. As such, most women were illiterate. It is difficult to fill a gap of economic dependence where there are about two generations of illiterate women.
Because of that illiteracy, women could not easily stand up for their rights. They were abused and deprived of very many human rights but they did not have a way of championing any of their causes.
Cultural indifferences also contributed to the need for women to be emancipated. For example, in Asia and in Africa, the birth of a girl is not celebrated as much as the birth of a boy. Actually, women are thought less for giving birth to girls.
Girls are culturally considered inferior to their male counterparts. That is why culturally, women do not own any property, but are rather property themselves.
Women did not have any political rights. It is not until recently that women started participating in the electoral process both as voters and as candidates.
To get to where we are now, a lot of affirmative action has been done. It includes encouraging the girl child to attend school, making laws that provide for the inclusion of women in governance of public bodies, making it easy for women to access credit facilities, among many other things.
What to do?
Of course, women still have a long way to go. Reproductive health rights, education, economic independence are all obstacles which women must overcome to be fully independent.
This is not a cause for women alone. Everyone: man, woman, child, youth can join in and make a difference.
So, to celebrate women’s day come 8th March, we suggest that you do any of the following:
There will be celebrations in your town or somewhere nearby. Attend the function or event in your area.
Do you love to cook? Do you know anyone who loves to cook? Get yourself a copy of the Women for Women International’s Cookbook. 100% of the profits go to women for Women International to help other women who are in conflict stricken countries. The recipes are from countries that are war torn and some are from international chefs and humanitarians.
They say blessed are the hands that give. So, this International Women’s Day, give! You can give by donating to any of the many organizations which champion the causes of women.
Like this year’s theme says, inspire change. Take it to heart and inspire someone to champion a cause for women. Be the change you want to see. Set a good example.
Have you heard of the Girl Declaration? The Girl Effect Organization reached out to thousands of girls living in poverty across the world. From that reaching out, the Girl Declaration was made. Listen to it! Hear the stories of girls on subjects of health, economic independence, safely, citizenship and education.
I am Malala: The Girl who Stood Up for Education and was shot by the Taliban is an inspirational book by Malala Yousafzai. It is a great book to read in celebration of International Women’s Day. If you can’t find it, read, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Participate in a marathon. Look around your area and see if there is one where you can participate. If there is none, it is not too late to organize one. You can then use the marathon to put forward a cause for women and if there are any proceeds involved, they can be donated to an organization for women.
If you don’t want to participate in a marathon, participate in a walk. Walks are a great way to exercise.
Tell the women in your life how special they are!
Watch the documentary, Girl Rising. It highlights the global campaign for girls’ education. It is a story of nine girls from Sierra Leone, Haiti, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Peru, Egypt, Nepal, India, and Cambodia. Feel free to host a film screening event to inspire your friends.
BY SAMALI BITALA
This article appears in our digital law magazine, The Deuteronomy Vol 3, Issue 1 of March 3rd 2017
To receive The Deuteronomy in real time, click HERE