International Women’ Day (IWD) is celebrated worldwide on the 8th of March. IWD symbolises the economic, political and social achievements of the women past, present and the future. Events are organised around the world to mark the celebrations.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton meets with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Rangoon, Burma, on December 1, 2011-pic – US Dept. of State
In some countries the day is declared as a National holiday. Today will be one hundred and one year since the inception of IWD.
At the beginning of the 20th century (1908), when 15,000 courageous women marched through New York City for better pay, shorter hours and the right to vote paved the way for the voice of women. Two years later the first IWD was held in Germany on the 19th march 1911.
IWD’s 50th Anniversary was held in 1960 and more than 700 delegates participated from 73 countries. United Nations gave a general recognition to IWD in 1975 and the endorsement was adopted by other governments which were not part of conferences previously. The United Nations also declared the year 1975 as the international year of women.
Since then IWD had many conferences and tackled many challenges and issues to push women’s rights on to the political arena of each country.
In later years IWD is seen as a celebration of women of the past than focusing on the downbeats. Many women personas have succeeded in the man’s world to make their stand and are continuing to do so in the future as well. What more of a day than today to remember some of those women who have contributed immensely to the world.
Marie Curie (1867 – 1934)
Marie Skoldowska was born in 1867 in Russian dominated Poland in the era where women could not attend Universities. Her family, who valued education, sent her to Sorbonne University in Paris to study Science and she became the first woman to teach in that campus. Marie married her associate Pierre Curie a professor in Physics and both jointly researched on radioactive substances. Many years of research earned the couple a Nobel Prize in 1903 for physics which was shared by another French Physicist A.H Becquerel. Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
A word coined by Marie as “Curies” is still used as a unit measurement to evaluate the level of radioactivity. Tragedy trapped Marie when her husband died in an accident. Marie, with 2 young children took his position as professor of Physics as the first woman to the post. She went on to discover radioactive elements Radium & Polonium. Polonium was named after her polish genesis. She won her second Nobel Prize in 1911 for isolating and studying the radioactive properties of Radium.
Radium was used to destroy cancerous cells in the body and the use of x-rays to find the bullets in wounded soldiers during the First World War. Marie Curie’s work was recorded in many scientific journals and was highly admired by the scientists around the world. Mari Curie died at the age of 67 of Leukaemia probably caused by the exposure to radiation during her research days.
Mothe Teresa receiving the Nobel Peace Prize
Mother Teresa (1910 – 1997)
A wrinkled face and a covered head with the edge of a white sari was a familiar face to the world, when Mother Teresa accepted her Nobel peace prize in 1979. Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was born in Macedonia to an Albanian family. Young Agnes accepted a call from the above to become a Roman Catholic nun in her teens. She received the name Sister Mary Teresa after she was accepted as a nun and later became Mother Teresa after taking her final vows.
Mother Teresa was transferred to Calcutta initially as a teacher and from the very beginning she was drawn to help the poor and the needy. On a journey from Calcutta to Darjeeling, she received a “call within a call” to initiate the missionaries of charity. She followed her inner urge to leave the convent to work among the under-privileged. Vatican gave her the green light to start the group “Sisters of Missionaries of Charities” under the guidance of archbishop of Calcutta.
“Love begins at home” became Mother Teresa’s motto and she started to provide free help to the impoverished, homes for orphans and the lepers. White sari with the blue lined border became the uniform for her and her co-workers around Calcutta. Her absolute dedication to serve the poor caught the attention of the entire world and was affectionately referred to as “the saints of the gutters”.
Apart from the Nobel Prize, Mother Teresa has also received many awards locally and internationally. India honoured her with Padmashree award and Bharat Ratna and the Queen honoured Mother Teresa with the Order of Merit .
Mother Teresa passed away after a brief illness at the age of 87. Her body was kept in a church next to the Loreto convent in Calcutta where she arrived 69 years earlier. Many thousands of people lined the streets to pay their last respects irrespective of their religion & race.
India gave Mother Teresa, a state funeral and her body was carried on the gun carriage which also carried the bodies of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru. Heads of the countries, Royals and special envoys were present at her funeral to bid her a final farewell.
At the time of her death Sisters of Missionaries of Charity were established in nearly 600 communities in 123 countries. Her work is still continuing under the guidance of Sister Nirmala in Calcutta.
Shirley Chisholm (1924 – 2005)
An African American activist, Shirley Chisholm was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1924 to a poor immigrant West Indian family. Shirley majored in Sociology at Brooklyn College and became an active advocate for minority rights. Shirley won a seat in New York assembly for democrats as the first black congress woman. In her famous address to the house of representative she quoted that “I have been far oftener discriminated against because I am a woman than because I am black”. Shirley passionately believed in improving the life of socially disadvantaged and the unfair treatment of women. She also proposed equal rights for all regardless of colour and gender. Shirley was the first African American woman to seek nomination for the presidency in 1972.
Even though she was unsuccessful she continued to be a voice for the women’s rights.
Indira Gandhi (1917 – 1984) & Sirimao Bandaranayke (1916 – 2000)
Prime ministers and heads of states
The world’s first female Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimao Bandaranayke (1916 – 2000) was elected to the Office in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) when her husband was assassinated in Colombo. A soft-spoken Sirimavo was persuaded by her late husband’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) to take over the leadership of the party. The following year, she won the general election for her party and became the first female Prime Minister. She carried the policies and legacies of her husband.
There were many female leaders who have been persuaded to take over the political mantle after the tragic deaths of their husbands or fathers.
Corie Aquino of Philippines, Chandrika Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka, Sonia Gandhi of India, Megawati Sukanoputri of Indonesia and Benazir Bhutto were among the many who stood the political litmus test.
Mrs. Indira Gandhi, the only child of the first prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru became a well accomplished politician. After graduating from Oxford, Indira returned to her motherland and joined the National Congress Party. The Congress party was the vanguard for the struggle for independence of India from the clutches of Britain and her parents have been active members of this party. Politics was in young Indira’s vein and she was elected as party president in 1959.
After the death of her father, she was appointed as the minister for information and broadcasting under the Prime Ministership of Lal Bahadur Shastri. Unfortunately Shastri died 2 years later and Mrs. Gandhi was promoted as the first female prime minister of the world’s largest democracy.
Initially nick-named as “goongi gudia” (dumb-doll), she slowly silenced the critics by nationalising the banks and initiating programmes for India’s self sufficiency. She proved herself as one of the tough politicians in the region and was described by Henry Kissinger as the “tough-minded and cold-blooded lady”. Indira Gandhi never shied from the extreme pressures and assisted in the creation of the independent state of Bangladesh.
In one of her speeches for women she quoted,
“An ancient Sanskrit saying says, woman is the home and the home is the basis of society. It is as we build our homes that we can build our country. If the home is inadequate – either inadequate in material goods & necessities or inadequate in the sort of friendly, loving atmosphere that every child need s to grow and develop- then the country cannot have harmony and no country which does not have harmony can grow in any direction at all.
That is why womens’s education is almost more important than the education of boys and men. We – and by ‘we’ I do not only we in India but the entire world around……..” (At Indraprastha College for women, New Delhi, India 23.11. 1974)
On October 1984, Mrs. Gandi was assassinated by two of her Sikh body guards as a revenge for sending the army to crush the Sikh occupation of the Golden temple. Prior to her death she has quoted “If I die a violent death as some fear and a few are plotting, I know the violence will be in the thought and the action of the assassin, not in my dying”. Indira Gandhi was admired by many and hated by some like any other
politician in the world.
Aung San suu Kyi
Aung San suu Kyi was two years old when her father General Aung san Kyi , national leader of Burma (now Myanmar)was assassinated in 1947. Aung was initially educated in Rangoon and later studied politics at Delhi University in India. She was also educated at the Oxford University and while working abroad met her future husband Michael Aris . The couple had 2 children and the family was living in England.
The death of her father made a deep impact on Aung’s life and made her to fight for the peace and independence of Burma from the military rule. Politics played a major role in Aungs life when she returned to Burma in 1988 leaving her young family in England to care for her ailing mother. During her stay she joined the pro-democracy movement and addressed the people in a public rally, calling for a democratic government. Many months later Aung was placed under house arrest by the ruling military leaders ever since.
The general elections were held in 1990 and her candidacy was declared null. Even in the absence of Aung the National League Party won a landslide victory. During her house arrest she wrote many speeches and books and she won her Nobel peace prize in 1991. She spent the winning prize of 1.3 million dollars in establishing a health and education trust fund for the people of Burma. Her struggle for democracy for Burma is still continuing…to this date.
Some women have utilised their public life from the entertainment industry to enter a political career. Special mention goes to the South Indian Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Ms. Jayalalitha and the Argentinian Radio & film actress Eva Peron. Glamorous first lady, Eva Peron affectionately named as” Evita” fought for the women’s right to vote and initiated a charity for the children and the under-privileged. She died at the age of 32 after suffering from Cancer. Evita became a house hold name after her death when Andrew Lloyd Webber made a Broadway musical “Evita” in 1976 and “Don’t cry for me Argentina” has become a favourite song across the world. In the eighties musical was made into a movie with Madonna as Evita.
Julie Covington on Evita
The world has seen many females from astronauts to political leaders, to crime novelists, to film directors and even a television talk back queen! The unfortunate truth is that in some countries women are still not paid equally. Globally women’s education, health and violence against them are worse than that of men. One can only hope that these conditions will change for the better at least at the end of the twenty-first century.
The world can only hope so!
Courtesy of: http://transcurrents.com/news-views/archives/9197