International Women’s Day 2016

March 8, 2016

With 2016 year’s International Women’s Day being celebrated today, women continue to struggle in a male-dominated world and efforts to protect their rights have been met with opposition from conservative groups.A friend of mine recently dropped me an extraordinary question at an unexpected moment during a chat on gender Issues. The question was: “Is women rights still relevant to women of 21st century?”. I was visibly alarmed by the question but responded, “Yes!”, and was alluding to the basic right to live a life equivalent of male.One common misunderstanding, despite extensive knowledge, is the fallacy of perceiving “rights” as an absolute set of “code”, to be prescribed in absolute terms, at all situations, to all peoples in the world.Women rights are codified law now in many countries in the World but what remains largely an unexplored territory of investigative research and understanding is how cultures and societal structures like those in Africa within a community influence the absolute code of “the right”.Whether it is the personal choice of divorce, abortion, change of name and religion, to disregard education and be a school dropout, or to gregariously pollute the surroundings in course of industrial revenue, the choice is exercised almost never in isolation but in relation to communal beliefs and societal codes of behaviour. In my reading and interactions with so called human rights experts is the interesting paradox where all rights are fundamentally based on individual needs to further dignified life and survival. Women rights in particular cannot always be a set of codes, handed down to the international community of women all over the planet. It would be useful to examine if culture specific and country specific women rights need to be incorporated to conform with international laws.

The difficulty and challenge in a country specific culture, specific women rights is of course the vast scope for legal or illegal suppression and oppression of women, wives, mothers and daughters. It is common to be surrounded by real life facts of housewife torture and harassment, bride murders, female infanticide, workplace bullying, abandonment and trafficking, and illegal oppression towards childbearing roles. And every now and then we hear too of women organisations, and commissions working to protect the rights of women and children.Sadly no one can tell how far have policies and projects helped in curbing domestic violence, halting trafficking of women and children and promoting equal rights in the work place. While the latter two phenomena can be assessed and quantified by project managers and NGOs, domestic violence remains elusive, un-assessed and much unreported in all parts of the world.The common misconception is that codified women rights exist to only “protect” women’s welfare. However, from my understanding “rights” in this modern age need to reach out beyond protection and protectionism, in order to create new opportunities towards women’s empowerment.Health and the right to health services is one of the most controversial and the most basic human right. In countries like Finland, Australia,health as a basic right is linked to citizen’s right to live, but exercising this right has become controversial, because far too much of health services and medical advancement is now privatised as businesses and linked to a quagmire of insurance investments. Hence invariably, the right to quality and timely health services has evolved as the privilege of the rich, while the poor and the rural community are marginalised, isolated and untreated.

It is the job of researchers to study the link between suppressed women’s rights and lagging economy, proportion of migration spurred by inadequate health nutrients and facilities, to unemployment statistics in overcrowded cities linked to street violence and syndicated business of begging, prostitution and regrettable escalation in crime.Human rights has now evolved as a full-fledged industry with international franchise offices of the much needed management and legal consultants, with writers and academics discussing human rights violation cases to bring to the global’s attention some of the unthinkable cruelties in the world.It is also important to recognise the extremism that prevails at both ends of the spectrum.The necessity of Human Rights is indisputable, to deter, curb and try human rights violations. However, women’s rights wavers between conformity to communal practices and internationally recognised rights, and practitioners need to recognise this subtle web of personal choice versus objective standards. Another misconception arises out of individualistic one dimensional view of “rights.” In the end, both human and women rights is about personal and social responsibility of individuals, activists and governments. What needs to be urgently recognised by both leaders and common people is an imminent need for peace and stability in every society, by acknowledging and curbing militant and demonstrative activism as well as militant politics. At extremes, both militant governance and human rights demands lead to violence and crime.Women’s right is still an international issue because it is politicised. As we celebrate 2016 International Women’s Day,I can confidently say women rights are an art of “balance” which means balancing family, profession, politics, faith and friends. Complemented by legal framework of “rights”, understanding and exercising women’s rights in every culture is more of a personal struggle and journey towards empowerment, freedom and love of belonging to a place, and to a community of friends.

Contador Harrison