The United Nations (UN) has marked the theme for Women’s Day 2018 (March 8th) as their activism in all settings with a focus on the women in rural settings (UN, 2018). The theme comes in the backdrop of the visibility of women’s activism becoming more accessible to people globally especially the visibility of their activism in cases of sexual violence, the gender pay gap and so on.
Women’s activism is not new. According to Ramachandra Guha (Hindustan Times, 2018), in developing his tactics for India’s freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi is said to have been influenced by the activism of British women to gain enfranchisement for women when he visited London 1906 and 1909. Known as the suffragettes, their protests played a part in inspiring techniques of protests employed by Gandhi in South Africa and also his decision to support universal adult franchise when India gained freedom. Similar movements for enfranchisement have taken place in democratic nations such as the United States of America. Women’s activism has a rich history of protests for enfranchisement, social and economic rights and justice the world over.
The first collective mobilizations of women in India in modern history took place in the 1960s and 1970s. This was largely due to the failure of state-led infrastructuralprograms and decline in political support for the ruling party during that period. The mobilisations in this period was to activate the previously poor and marginalised Indians to amplify the dissatisfaction with the status quo. Although the priority was not necessarily gender justice, rural women’s activism in India became politically active due to an awareness of gender injustice.
Among the first of these mobilisations occurred in the forests of Uttarakhand (erstwhile Uttar Pradesh) due to the development projects. The aim was reclaiming forest rights, especially the use of forest resources, which involved movements for village self-rule and women’s activism in preventing logging of trees. Since the 1970s rural womenhave protested against adverse conditions during or after calamities such as droughts and floods. There have been instances when rural women have joined protests against corrupt landlords and land alienation, for example.
As of now, however, apart from women’s activism against sexual violence and the gender pay gap, etc. quite a fewprominent women’s movements are largely under-reported globally. They arethe Dalit women’s movement in India, the women’s movement in Iran, the movement of domestic workers in the United States of America, the Romani women’s movement in Europe, the Piquet era movement in Argentina, the Palestinian women’s movement (Batliwala, 2008), the struggles of disabled women, etc.
What is largely visible in the public sphere are the struggles and concerns of urban middle class women in centres of activity which gets communicated globally. In India,daughters’ aversion is affecting the child sex ratios. The Guardian (2018) reports that greater than 63 million women are missing in India and 21 million girls are unwanted by their families as per Indian government officials. However, the phenomenon is largely under-reported.
It is in rural India that the perceptibility of women’s activism and movements for equal rights is required even more given how much of rural India suffers from lack of media outreach and education for the girl child. An awareness of valuing the girl child is even more pertinent in rural areas where there percentages of girls going to school are usually less than that of boys. According to a NSSO Survey, only 2.2 per cent of rural women in India are graduates (PTI, 2015).
It is difficult to invoke awareness when there is a lack of education although women’s activism has a long legacy in rural India.The perceptibility of women’s movements and issues can have a huge bearing on women’s activism for rights and justice in the public sphere. For example, in the case of rural women’s activism in India, although 43.48 per cent of the agricultural labour force in India are women (Census, 2011),only 12.78 per cent of all landholders are women in India (Agriculture Census, 2011). Although the right to inheritance of property for women is a pertinent issue particularly in the case of agricultural landholdings, the issue itself does not feature prominently in the public sphere
There is a need that the rural women become increasingly engaged in enhancing their awareness of gender justice (Heuer 2015) and become self-aware through education and other means and demand their rights to expression. In the absence of such endeavours, their activism would not acquire the voice it entails for national as well as global attention.