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Delhi Declaration on 100 years of International Women’s Day

by Centenary Committee to Celebrate International Women’s Day, 9 March 2009

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(Declaration of an Year-long program to Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the International Women’s Day, to culminate in a massive program a year from now on March 08, 2010)

100 years of International Women’s Day: Achievements and Challenges

On the historic occasion of March 8, several organisations and individuals in Delhi, have come together to commemorate hundred years of International Women’s Day, to collectively celebrate the achievements of women’s struggles all over the world, to draw strength from the struggles and sacrifices of our earlier generations and to chart out the course of our future struggles.

Women’s struggles against exploitation, war and political alienation has a long and rich history of sacrifice, repression and ridicule. Whether it was working class women who were locked up in factories, and who got burnt when the factory caught fire, or suffragettes who were repeatedly jailed for asking for the right to vote, women were considered too frivolous to organise and were ignored by trade unions. Yet women throughout the world waged militant struggles to improve their working conditions and to end exploitation. The women’s movement, which began as a struggle against capital, acquired newer dimensions and began to address the myriad issues that affect women. This included the issue of the right over women’s own bodies, and breaking the silence against domestic and public violence.

March 8 was declared as the International Women’s Day in 1910 at the Second International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen. Clara Zetkin, a leader of ’Women’s Office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany proposed this day for women of the world to press for their demands. Women from 17 countries, representing unions, socialist parties, working women’s clubs, and women parliamentarians greeted Zetkin’s suggestion with unanimous approval. This day was of additional significance because on this day in 1908, women had gathered in New York City to rally around the issue of women’s suffrage.

Women in India have not only struggled for their own rights but have made significant contribution to all struggles for freedom, workers’ rights and land rights. In the twentieth century, one of the first examples of political action for women’s rights was the 1942 Nagpur struggle of thousands of Dalit women for compulsory free education for girls and political representation of Dalit women in public offices. In the 1940s women’s participation in Telangana movement for land rights was another landmark. Over the years, women contributed significantly to many other struggles related to livelihood and environmental issues, like the Chipko movement. Women came out in large numbers in the anti-liquor movement and against price rise.

While Dalit and Adivasi women in rural areas continued to claim their rights and dignity in small and big spaces, the 1980s were also characterised by widespread outrage and legal action by women’s groups and women of all classes in various cases of discrimination and violence against women, like the Shah Bano maintenance case, issues of dowry and dowry deaths, Sati, rape and child sexual abuse. Women in the north-eastern part of India, particularly Manipur, led and continue to lead the struggle against army atrocities and State repression.

With the 1990s, the Indian government embarked on World Bank dictated reforms and women protested against privatization, withdrawal of the State in social sectors and targeted Public Distribution System (PDS).

As a consequence of neo-economic policies, today our society is characterised by unprecedented disparities. Resources are being transferred to national and foreign capital in India with active participation of the State resulting in large-scale dispossession and displacement of people. Government policies have brought about agrarian crises where farmers are pushed to commit suicide. Withdrawal of the State from health, education and social security sectors has caused further impoverishment, exclusion and deprivation. In the name of micro credit, women are being exploited by the state, the microfinance institutions (MFIs) and some NGOs.

And in this process women suffer the most. If there is retrenchment, women are the first to be fired. If the family does not have food, women have even less. If there is dispossession, women lose traditional control and benefits even within the family, as cash compensation is given to male members. Women belonging to Dalit, Adivasi and religious minority communities, women with mental and physical disabilities, along with those marginalised due to their gender and sexual preferences, are even more vulnerable and exploited.

Arms of the state meant to protect citizens, have routinely used rape and sexual assault in order to intimidate, terrorise and control women and populations. Mass rapes and atrocities by security forces during anti-insurgency operations in North-East or Kashmir have further been strengthened by the existence of draconian laws like the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The recent amendment in Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act will also give a fillip to the State in its suppression of people’s movements. Furthermore, private armies sponsored by the State are also using sexual assault as a tool to suppress people’s struggles, like in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand.

Women are specifically targeted during communal and caste violence, as we have seen in Gujarat, Khairlanji and Orissa. Similarly women everywhere are under the threat of moral policing. Crimes against women, including against lesbians and bisexuals, and transgender persons, are on the rise, making their participation in public life increasingly difficult and their life within the home and the workplace more insecure.

In the face of dominant imperialist and repressive forces, we need to come together to build a united women’s movements, and resolve to struggle for a just and equitable society.

We hereby demand:

  • People-centred and pro-women developmental policies; wherein microcredit-based self help groups (SHGs) cannot be the only and dominant intervention,
  • Food security, including PDS universalisation,
  • Livelihoods with fair wages and good working conditions, with regulation of working conditions for unorganized sector workers,
  • Land reform and women’s access to and control over productive resources,
  • Freedom from sexual assault and harassment, domestic and public violence,
  • Effective implementation of laws such as the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act and Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribe Atrocities Act.
  • Decriminalisation of homosexuality and reading down of Article 377 of IPC,
  • Elimination of caste-based professions like manual scavenging that exploit Dalit women
  • Strengthening of institutions and mechanisms that are set up to address special needs of women, SC, ST, OBC and religious minorities, and,
  • Repeal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, UAPA, and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) Act.

On the occasion of this Centenary Year of International Women’s Day 2009, we call on women from all over the country to join together with other oppressed peoples to raise our voices against declining living standards, fascist attacks by the State and rightwing mobs, and other forms of patriarchal oppression. Let us use this opportunity to celebrate our achievements and build new solidarities to face the challenges ahead of us. Starting March 8th 2009, commemoration meetings will be held through the year and will culminate in a massive programme on March 8th 2010.

Centenary Committee to Celebrate International Women’s Day
- AIPWA, AISA, CADAM, Centre for Struggling Women, Committee Against Violence on Women (CAVOW), Dalit Lekhak Manch, Democratic Students Union (DSU), Disha Chhatra Sangathan, Forum for Democratic Struggle, Gatividhi, Jagori, Krantikari Yuv Sanghatan, New Socialist Initiative, Nirantar, NTUI, Pragatisheel Mahila Manch, Progressive Students Union (PSU), Purogami Mahila Sanghatan, Saheli, Sangat, Stree Adhikar Sangathan, Stree Mukti League, and Arjumand Ara, Chanda Sagar, Dr. Ajita Rao, Indira Chakravarthy, Indira Pancholi, Karen Gabriel, Madhu Aggrawal, Nitoo Das, Shehla Faizee, Shubhra Sethi, Vibha Maurya and others.

Contact: iwdcentenary at gmail.com