With the focus mainly on the status of women in developing countries, it is easy to forget that women in the West have not always been emancipated.
March 8 this year marks the centenary celebrations of International Women’s Day “IWD”, a day that was declared in Copenhagen in 1910 at a conference attended by women from 17 countries.
It all began with the activities of women’s labour unions in the early 1900’s who were campaigning for women’s right to work, better working conditions and the right to vote.
The latter gained momentum and was known as the suffragette movement.
Suffrage means the right to vote and New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the vote in 1893.
Even as late as 1918 the United Kingdom only allowed women over 30 years to vote and only those who met certain economic criteria.
International Women’s Day was also used by women to protest against World War I as part of the peace movement.
Over the years universal suffrage became a reality for the majority of women in developed and developing countries and is stated as a right under the 1979 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
I will now focus on women in sub-Saharan Africa whose way of life I can relate to and to the question I posed at the beginning.
If all legal impediments to women’s progress have been done away with, then why is the advancement of women still an issue?
Part of the answer lies in the patriarchal social system which the majority of us participate in. Scholars such as Moller (1989) identified six areas of male dominance in such social systems ie in family relations, state institutions, in paid work (women’s domestic work is largely unpaid), male violence, sexuality and culture.
The second part of the answer lies in my opinion with the women themselves.
There is a lot of room to manoeuvre even within the framework of the current social system.
Leading experts in personal development find that fear in various forms leads to paralysis of action and the inability to change one’s circumstances.
Fear takes different forms eg fear of failure, fear of success, fear of losing money, fear of rejection by society (what will people say?) and other variations.
Underlying all this as well could be a low self esteem — not feeling worthy enough to actually realise one’s goals and dreams.
So yes, the movement is still relevant but it has taken on a more subtle and intangible form — that of personal transformation.
The International Women’s Day is now a time to inspire and motivate each other while celebrating ordinary women who have made great strides in their communities.
Many events will be held on March 8 throughout the world and in Africa, it is a public holiday in Angola, Uganda and Zambia.
So far 1 207 events (including the one to be held in Maseru) have been logged onto independent website www.internationalwomensday.com.
The United Nations also commemorates the day and its theme this year is “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women.”
In Maseru, a local non-governmental organisation Essence of Woman, will be hosting a half-day conference on March 8 at Lesotho Sun under the theme “Dare to Dream.”
The key note presentation will be given by Louisa Mojela, one of the co-founders of WIPHOLD, one of Africa’s largest investment and operating groups owned by black women and dedicated to the economic empowerment of black women.
In 2000 she was selected as among the 40 “leading women entrepreneurs of the world.”
Tumi Frazier, a finalist in the Services Sector of the 2010/11 SA’s Most Influential Women in Business will share insights on how women can live a life of significance.
Other speakers have been carefully chosen to give direction on how we can empower ourselves economically.
An Afrocentric fashion show by Pabatso Exposee, goodie bags and group discussions will also be part of the day’s events.
Tendai Murahwa is a writer, consultant and trainer living in Maseru. Her areas of interest are women, leadership and personal transformation. Her email address is email@example.com
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