8th March – Can Third World Women afford a strike?

Samhita Barooah on the strike called by western feminists on International Women’s Day

Majority of Indian women struggle hard to make ends meet. Somehow making sure that their kitchen fire never burns out and their homes are free from violence. Women’s work is underestimated, undervalued and non-monetised to a large extent while it remains subsidiary in the formal sector of employment. Women’s work is unaccounted in every sphere of human activity. Women in rural, tribal, coastal, riverside, relief camp areas have been working to earn a small share of cash which sustains their needs compelled by the capitalist modes of living. The constructs of women being the sole bread-winners of the families have become a striking reality in today’s era. Men would rather enjoy the power to control women’s income and work timings rather than work for their families. Men do work for themselves alone.

A strike from the white collared industrial first world will not be able to include the women from the dingy rat-holes of domestic, informal and hazardous work sites where women struggle within sexist, racist and fascist environments. Who will feed the daily wage earning women who goes for breaking stones, carrying debris or wood, washing utensils and baby-sitting for long hours if they go on strike? In the third world women do not even have the pleasure of working for their own well-being. All they do is either work to pay the next EMI or put their children in a better school or take care of the health of their elders and dependents and sometimes buy peace at home. Some women are forced into hazardous professions which do not uphold their essence of being a woman. Most women prefer to work outside their domestic sphere to be able to get away from the drudgery of domestic chores. But these days some workplaces try and create such drudgery within official spaces as well. May be women need to take a break from such drudgery. Working women have to face the brunt of being half-hearted home-makers, nincompoop cooks and neglecting mothers, daughters, sisters, wives and partners. So the success of women’s skills lays within the domestic sphere irrespective of their professional degrees or however much they have excelled in their professional careers. Even at workplaces, male colleagues will judge a woman’s skill more accurately from the different cuisines which she can make rather than the strategic decisions she takes on behalf of the workplace. In many Indian companies, women employees are still needed to provide the feel good factor, treat to the eye or most of the times to maintain adequate public relations on behalf of the company with the high profile vested interest groups. Women’s work within companies is either that of fulfilling already set goals without any leverage for decision-making or tokenistic leadership in organisations with constant attacks from their male counterparts. In most workplaces wherever there are women in leadership positions, it primarily becomes a battle of the sexes. Male colleagues whether senior or junior will challenge women to prove themselves with sexist agendas in mind. It is always a process of trying to prove a woman wrong for not fulfilling her expected roles within the restricted structures of the workplace.

Women in the western world going for a strike on March 8 would definitely make a huge difference but women in the third world do not even have the privilege of being in a workplace to be striking. Third world women are not individual units who collectivise to bring about positive social change. Third world women live through their collective identities of relationships, customary norms and social and economic institutions. They are bound to uphold their collective identities first before asserting their specific gender identities which could be an individual struggle in itself. Women within the third world have multiple gender constructs but not every gender identity stands in opposition to the other. Very recently there was somebody who spoke in a local news channel about her recent identity as a cancer survivor. But what some observers argued that the same person had an alternative sexual preference became more prominent while her struggle for surviving the terminal illness was not significant. Women’s essence and existence is multi-layered and dynamic which is related to her temporariness within the lifecycle shifts she goes through. For a man his privileged identity is fixed from his very childhood, in fact some parents struggle to assign a forced male identity on a born male person. As for women such imposition of gender identity is rather fluid till her puberty and henceforth her marriage. The power attached to female existence lies within the layers of subjugated existence where women are compelled to live under the predominance of patriarchal paradoxes. Cis-women are the new patriarchs whose sole purpose in life is to enforce hetero-normative practices to keep their positions of power intact. They reject anything that defies conformity and deviates from the forced normal. Cis women fear feminist debates in-order to find a subordinated space within the patriarchal hierarchies which dominate all the personal and political systems of our lives.

Compromise is a familiar term when it comes to a woman. Compromise, if there is an abuser within the family for the sake of clan honour. Compromise, if you have to follow de-humanising traditions as it is forbidden to question religion. Compromise, if there is unequal treatment in schools and colleges at least you have got a chance to study compared to your ancestors. Compromise; if you are bonded for labour and domestic work at least you are getting some food to eat. Compromise, if you are assaulted, raped, teased, objectified, silenced and ridiculed as you belong to the excluded caste of being a woman. Compromise, in fair share of land and property as a woman cannot be equal to a man in public affairs. Compromise, in a spousal relationship as you have to save the relationship. Compromise, at workplace and settle for unequal pay and undeserved demotion for you have to support your family. Compromise, it is only for your siblings, for elders, for community, for parents, for family, for children, for the nation and for peace in the world. Compromise to live under constant surveillance, forced silence, veil of ignorance, misogyny and violent impunity for the sake of mothering a fascist nationalism. This March 8 and many more to follow can women and all those who compromise to be women call a strike against such compromise?

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Samhita Barooah Written by:

Samhita Barooah has worked with communities of women across North East India, trained professionally as a social work practitioner and currently pursuing her doctoral studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati Campus, Assam. She likes writing non-fiction and travels often to rural pockets of North East India.

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