People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 03

January 15, 2012

2011: Women's Participation in Protests was Significant


R Chandra


THE year gone by, 2011, was a year marked by people's protest movements across the world --- a year of agitations and struggles. It started with the eruption of mass protests in the Arab world. On January 14, Tunisia led the way, followed by Egypt, the most populous country in the Arab world. In Egypt, 18 days of angry protests at Tahrir Square brought an end to the 30 years long autocratic rule by Hosni Mubarak.


Women played a crucial role in protest agitations all over --- from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to Libya, They turned out in large numbers everywhere. They defied authority and faced physical harassment in Tahrir Square, in  Change Square and in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Women's participation was not symbolic but significant. Intenet, Facebook, Twitter have all been a liberating force for women in the Arab world and the US and other countries, and they maintained contact with one another. No doubt, in the context of facilitating the protest  movements in 2011, technology proved to be an effective tool for connecting with and organising the people. This was stressed by this year’s Nobel peace prize winner Karman from Yemen. All these movements managed to break the traditional image of women, including Arab women, as docile, passive secondary citizens.


However, to date women do not enjoy an equal status, as has been revealed by UN Women’s Development Report. Women constitute 70 per cent of the poor in the world. Not just that; 75 to 80 per cent of the refugees in the whole world are women.  Women receive only three fourths of the wages men get. This is true of even the rich and developed nations, and even in the non-agricultural sectors. As many as 70 per cent of the world’s illiterate population are women; similarly, 42 per cent of the world’s HIV affected people are women. About two crores of women undergo unsafe abortions and 70,000 of them die every year.


Women’s participation in politics is dismal. Sweden, holding first rank on the Gender-related Development Index (GDI), is so far the only country to have had 50 per cent women as cabinet ministers. Even in the United Nations, only 7 out of 185 diplomats are women. Only 18.5 per cent members of the UN executives are women. The UN report on Silence is Violence reveals increasing trends regarding crimes against women.


With the intensification of the ongoing global crisis, pressure on women is increasing. Women are in jobs without medical or insurance cover and are paid low. Women's responsibility at home and outside leads to more stress. More and more women are being into unorganised sectors and their presence in the so-called 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous and demeaning) has been increasing.  


Food inflation and increase in the prices of essentials have made life difficult for crores of people. Commenting on the Indian situation with so much buffer stock, Dr Parpia from the Food & Agricultural Organisation (FAO) said grains are getting attacked by rats for want of proper storage facilities; 6 rats eat the food meant for one man and as a result an average Indian rat is healthier than an average Indian citizen. On the other hand, women farmers who commit suicides are not even counted because they don’t have patta in their names. Widows of farmers who have committed suicide are getting forced into prostitution since a share in the property is denied to them by their in-laws.


With the advent of globalisation, women are facing more and more problems as they getting victims of consumerism. Women are made to appear as exotic sex objects.  


It is therefore imperative that the protest movements, taking place the world over now, should act as a catalyst to women’s increasing participation and leadership in trade unions and other movements. It is no doubt not easy to break the social barriers. Ruth Hartley, a feminist writer, has correctly said that that women are not brought up; they are warped.


Yet, now is the time for women to come out in increasing numbers and be active in all the spheres of political activity. Women need to be determined to assert their identity in order to have a decent and dignified life.