On March 8th the world celebrated what is known as International Women’s Day. This day marks a call for gender equality and to celebrate the achievements that women around the world have reached. To be a feminist doesn’t mean that you want women to have more rights or more spotlight than men, it simply means that you are in support of equal rights between all people. For that reason, everyone should be a feminist. International Women’s Day celebrates strength, justice, dignity and hope for a better future.
There have been many brave and intelligent women who have been trailblazers throughout history. Amelia Earhart was the first female pilot to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Marie Curie, the first female Nobel Peace Prize winner and the only recipient to be awarded the honor twice, was a physicist who discovered the element Radium and led ground breaking research in radioactivity. Susan B. Anthony was a civil rights activist and a leader of the suffrage movement who advocated for women’s voting rights. Meryl Streep, one of the greatest actresses of our time, is a multi-Oscar winner. Harriet Tubman risked her life and bravely led hundreds of slaves to freedom. And finally, one of the most noteworthy Sri Lankan people of our history is Sirimavo R.D. Bandaranaike who became the world’s first female Prime Minister.
All of these women have contributed in major ways to various fields, from science, to politics, to sports and the arts. What’s amazing is that there are still women today who continue to inspire and change the way the world thinks. Ava Duvernay is an Oscar nominated filmmaker, Oprah Winfrey is today’s most popular television producer and philanthropist and the first black female billionaire in the United States. Malala Yousafzai, who defied the Taliban regime and advocates for children’s education, is the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner in history. She in particular is incredibly inspiring because of her fearlessness as she stood against the Taliban, survived an assassination attempt, gave a speech to the United Nations, and won the Nobel Prize all before the age of 20.
This goes to show that anyone, be it man or woman, can accomplish any feat at any age. Our society is constantly changing, with technology and with our ideals. More girls are starting to become interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and are pursuing these fields in post-secondary education. Back when I was in university, our engineering faculties were mainly skewed towards the male population. But now that my younger sister is in university, her engineering class dynamics are more evenly proportionate than mine. Our perception of gender equality is changing, slowly but surely. We are starting to become more accepting of women studying fields that historically were more male dominated because of the women who have broken the stereotype and paved the way for the next generations.
Not every woman is able to accomplish something like discovering a new element or win an Oscar, but something miraculous that we are able to do is to give life to the next generation. It’s nothing short of a miracle that women are able to conceive and carry a new life inside of our bodies. During pregnancy, a woman’s womb grows from the size of a pear to a watermelon as it carries a baby. Some women carry two, three, or even more infants at one time. In pregnancy, women produce more blood than usual, our hearts working harder to support the life that grows inside of us. Our ankles swell up, backs begin aching, bodies rapidly changing and adjusting, all in preparation for the miracle of life. A woman’s body is holy and extraordinary for being able to literally grow a new person. I may not be winning a Nobel Peace Prize anytime soon, but instead I know that I will have a part to play in giving birth to the next generation.
International Women’s Day is something that should be celebrated more widely. Sri Lanka has been fairly progressive in gender equality, especially after Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected to be the first female head of state in 1960. Our home country was ranked fairly well in human development by the United Nations Human Development report as recently as 2016. However, as is with most other countries, women are still seen as being a stereotypical housewife or home maker despite ambitions to do something more. If a woman wants to be a home maker, then that is her decision. The problem arises when she is forced to stay at home when she has the determination to pursue further education or work in an industry that’s male-dominated. There are women who are smarter than their male counterparts or more driven to their goals, but are not given the necessary support or encouragement to reach their full potentials. International Women’s Day helps to break this barrier that women face so that their potential can be realized.
Sri Lankan culture has a patriarchal nature, which means that our cultural customs and norms tend to favour men and withhold opportunities from women. Despite a moving change in the expectations of men and women back home, there is still a preference of men over women in the labour market. Another cultural practise that has still prevailed throughout history is the concept of dowries. A dowry is a part of marriage law where money and/or material gifts are given by the family of the bride to the family of the groom. One very important distinction between the pros and cons of a dowry is that it depends on the person who uses it. Oftentimes different families will offer higher dowries in competition with each other to settle with an educated groom.
The negative side of a dowry is that the groom’s own desirableness rises based on the dowries offered to him from various prospective brides. What is unfair about this is that this puts more stress and pressure on the family of the brides to secure a suitable groom. I heard about a very old Tamil proverb from my parents, which translates to “even if a king has five daughters, then he will become penniless”. If there are multiple girls in a family, then the strain befalls the parents to raise a suitable dowry for each daughter. Sometimes, a non-sufficient dowry can lead to domestic abuse if the groom feels that he was not given an adequate sum by the bride’s family. Women were easily victimized over something that they could not control. The only positive side of a dowry is if the groom uses it to better the life of the couple after they marry instead of keeping it for himself or for his own family prior to the marriage. The concept of dowries have now been deemed as illegal in various countries, however this does not stop many old-fashioned families from continuing to practice this custom.
Women historically have been faced with lower wages, poor quality of employment opportunities, patriarchal policies, and unfair cultural disadvantages. That is why International Women’s Day is such an important day for women to feel strong and empowered. My parents’ generation had a hard time with speaking up if something was wrong, but that is where things had started to change. My generation now is full of young, spirited people who advocate for fairness and justice for all women. We stand together for our sisters, mothers, cousins and friends for equality and for equal opportunities. Women are intelligent, strong, and determined, and it’s time the rest of the world accepted this too.