By Piya Mayenin
International Women’s day (IWD), Mothering Sunday, Mothers Day are celebrated on 6th and 8th March respectively which are the official dates and time to remember Women and their contributions.
However we do not remember women in the same way on those days. Whilst Mothering Sunday, Mothers day and even Valentine’s day we think of women in a warm, fond way in their roles as mothers, grandmothers, stepmothers, mother in laws, wives and lovers, IWD bears a very different history and significance which must never be forgotten. Political and Human rights issues are at the core of it and have been marked initially by struggles of working women, economic fairness, social justice, suffrage rights and leading to overall gender parity.
IWD has been celebrated now for over a hundred years with the first one in 8 March 1909 in New York and then 19th March 19 11 in Denmark, Germany , Austria and other European countries. It has since become the inspiration of all women and the pledge for parity (gender equality) in addition to celebrating of women’s political economic and cultural success. IWD has been given international official recognition during International Women’s Year in 1975, by the United Nations and was taken up by many governments who had not previously known of its existence.
Whilst the shape of women’s struggles is different depending which part of the globe they are in, their struggle at the end of the day is the same one. While developed countries battle with the objectification of women in media outlets, under-representation in positions of power and unequal pay rates, developing countries struggle with ‘…dowry related violence; rape; acid throwing; domestic violence; illegal fatwa; sexual harassment; wage and social discrimination’ (Odhikaar, 2016). Not to mention forced marriages, Honor killings, in addition to Diasporas of the developing nations.
The writer presents a radio program on Betar Bangla radio based in the UK on Violence against Women and states that one of the top most reason for violence against women is perpetuated by attitudes of historical the male dominated society; an attitude that is imbibed also by the female population resulting in the parroting of words to give effect that stigmatises other females and fitting into the male thinking misogynistic atmosphere. There is an old adage, ‘Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t’ and this in the writer’s opinion describes why whilst the male misogynist is tolerable as one can fight it, the female misogynist is far more dangerous, damaging and difficult to fight.
An example of this is the Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher who did everything that the worst male misogynist would want to do. Only one other single female soul was in her entire cabinet, namely, Baroness Young. Even in Prime Minster David’s Cameron’s cabinet there are far more women which should embarrass the Lady Thatcher. However it has been evident that it doesn’t. Her atrocious comments on single mothers have been attacked fiercely by single parent support groups and William Hague simply distanced himself from her comments. Many women applaud in loyalty to Donald Trump exist comments, who is not only a xenophobic but also a misogynist not to mention a fascist. In a magazine several years ago, the writer was stunned to read an article where a man was stating that he saw all women as cows. In his picture with the article, his loving devoted wife was holding him tight as if he were a cuddly toy pleased with her designation (that she was a cow).
A cat ought to behave like a cat, not a snake as this confuses the world. In May 2015, The Lib Dems were annihilated from 57 seats to only 8 while the Conservatives rose despite of their non social non liberal policies. The reason should be obvious, practice what you preach or be the cat who acts like a cat and not a snake. Likewise a woman should remember she not only a woman but an international woman. As she is representative of other women, she must go beyond of being a single personal with single aims and goals and see them though the eyes of women everywhere and in every situation. She must not support the misogynist.
A name comes to mind, the late Rosalind Elsie Franklin, an English chemist and X-ray crystallographer whose works on coal and viruses were appreciated in her lifetime, but her contributions to the discovery of DNA were largely recognized posthumously. In fact it was men who had taken the name for her works. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Watson suggested that Franklin would have ideally been awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry, along with Wilkins, but the Nobel Committee does not make a posthumous nomination which is a great tragedy and injustice in the writer’s opinion.
In London one has to stroll about the city to see all the high financial and other positions held by men in suits whilst their secretaries are women. Waitresses are women. Which begs the question whose city is London? A man’s or a woman’s
On the international level it is welcome sight that for the first time ever two women are official candidates in the 2016 UN elections. Irina Bokova who is currently the UNESCO Director General and Vesna Pusic Deputy Speaker of the Croatian Parliament.
In the sub continental mindset misogynistic views are often perpetuated by the movies and literature that constantly depict and describe ‘good’ women as being virgin, loyal and obedient and sacrificing wife who endures all torture because she should resemble a ‘Sati Savitri’ naari as opposed to the ‘bad’ disobedient wife who is to be shunned. ‘Naari haath is used as a term to describe womanly tantrums.
Of course if one studied the Hindu scripture from Gita, the Vedas, Upanishads even the Puranas and epics like Mahabharata, would find that apart from Brahma ‘the God’ most of the other major deities in Hindu religion are female including Durga Kaali and Saraswaathi to name but a few. This simply goes to show there is no ceiling that women cannot go beyond. Yet misogynists continue to use Hindu scriptures to subjugate women!
Likewise, Islam was the first religion that recognized women as ‘being’ in her own right. A woman not to be shunned buried alive or tied up and kept for carnal needs of men. Islamic jurisprudence although complicated was applied to render justice and equality. The modern misogynists apply laws with a mixed misogynistic touch and interpretation that do not reflect the true intentions of the religion passed to Muslims by the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) which was simply to battle inequality. A prime example of this misogynistic application of Islam is Saudi Arabia where women virtually have no rights at all.
In Bangladesh women are made to endure abusive situations as the economic alternative and shunning by misogynistic society would be unbearable. Widows are still stripped of assets, given a rough deal through Islamic intestacy rules which are applied by misogynistic men, yet again. That is if they are not or are not also victims of violence from the deceased husband’s family and wider community.
Similarly in Afghanistan, perhaps one of the most illiterate and misogynistic states under the Taliban stopped women from accessing education through violent killings and forced them to wear the niqab and jilbab so nothing but the eyes are seen and even then one wrong move and they were shot.
Across the Bangladeshi Diaspora these misogynistic views continue. Without naming names, disturbing comments regarding single mothers can be heard on community TV. Wholly offensive and incorrect statements are frequently made. Surprisingly women present on a particular program did not rebut a statement that was equally puzzling and disappointing.
In the duration of my practice as a lawyer in the UK, I have dealt with many cases of domestic violence, separation, divorce and children matters. I have never seen a case where the separation or divorce was not absolutely necessary in the circumstances of the matter. The usual scenario even where there is no physical violence there is nonetheless an abusive nature of the husband with extreme unfairness on the woman and quite frequently on children alongside that. Moreover, no sensible person could claim that a widow has done that to herself (made herself a widow) and is thus of less value as a human being because her husband has died.
The vast majority of single mothers in Bangladesh and across the globe are mothers raise children (the children of the nation, of the globe) whilst their husband’s work abroad or in other parts of the country to earn a living.
In the Western world, single mothers are forced to take on the role of breadwinner, carer, housekeeper, cook, teacher and not to mention counselor! They are known to stretch themselves beyond limits and any limit what most couples would as parents, even if they do not quarrell over their respective burdens and responsibilities. A single mother does not even have that privilege.
A typical day starts often early in the morning with taking children to school (if they are of school age). On return from dropping the child or children if she hasn’t dashed off to work, it is the task to clean toilets, bathrooms, and kitchen and leaves preparation for cooking and then run off to work. When the day’s work is done they return (Many do part time shifts or part time work so they can pick up their children) The rest of the evening is again never ending cleaning, cooking, overlooking homework, washing the children, feeding, and teaching . The mother sleeps when everything is done and after the children are done she often catches up on work duties. The added onus of bearing the responsibility of a mother and the missing father engages a single mother around the clock and includes breadwinning, paying bills, housekeeping, Garden keeping, washing family clothes, ironing and constantly finds herself learning about how to best raise her children, provide stability and a loving and secure environment for the child’s development. These basic things are quite frequently overlooked by a two parent family as the social focus is on the single mother. On a national level state help to a single mother is minimal especially if not working. Many single mothers find ways of supporting their children at universities and do not expect help from Adult children merely because of the passion that their child should not lose out and should do well. A single mother usually sacrifices social activities and ‘fun’ for the wellbeing of their children and as they are forever catching up on their tasks at hand. For a civilized modern society not to note that is really a shame.
There are countless examples of extraordinary and great personalities who have been inspired and nurtured by single mother; Why don’t’ we start off with the current most important leader in the world? Barack Obama, 44th President of the US, Aged 54 who credits his single mother Ann with encouraging him and nurturing his ambitions:
‘I grew up without a father in my life. I had a heroic mom and wonderful grandparents who helped raise me and my sister, and it is because of them that I am able to stand here today.’ (Mail Online 10 Oct 2012)
What about Gymnast Louis Antoine Smith, the 26 year old British gymnast who received a bronze medal and a silver medal on the pommel horse at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2012 London Olympics. In 2015 he became the European champion on Pommel Horse. Louis credits all his success to the sacrifices made by his mum Elaine Petch from Peterborough.
I could go on and fill up pages but one could simply Google it to stumble on an extensive list as I have found.
The stigma surrounding single mothers is decreasing in the Western countries and it must do so in the sub continental originated communities too. If blame is to be apportioned then it must be to the right person which is usually the father, whether you want to blame them for being irresponsible, abusive, violent, drunk, gone abroad for work, or even having died on their widow!
Being a single mother is better any day than living in an abusive or even borderline abusive environment and in fact, in the UK, it becomes a duty for mothers to leave their abusive partners for the safeguarding of their children as is stipulated in the Children Act 1989.
Finally, stigma must be replaced with the acknowledgement of the true role of a working single mother who usually works 10 times harder as a parent than in a two parent family and are only a single parent as result from unfairness in life. She is usually a person fixed on a strong sense of principles and values and is not on drugs or dating different men as their own success and their children’s success demonstrate.
Whilst having a secure family surrounded with mother and father is everybody’s ideal, the reality is that half of women are probably single and that is even when they are married sometimes as the example of women bringing up children in Bangladesh and other places indicates! These children in fact go on to pull along their families to a better economic situation in later years.
Stigmatising single mothers for personal or political point scoring is reinforcing that it’s okay to victimize the poor. As a poor person who is also a single mother is more likely to be violated. If she is uneducated and unaware of her rights (and a single mother), she is more likely to be violated. She or her children are more likely to be trafficked.
The essence of International day is women’s right. The fact that women must not be sold. A woman is a person of her own, with a mind of her own and has a moral right to agency of her own mind. As single mothers are in a place to have agency of their own minds, they would do everything in their power to raise top -class children of the globe and society must help them as otherwise half the population is dead.
We need to broaden our horizons as shallow people will only raise shallow people – that is the main point here. That is the focus. If one wants to focus on single mothers then here are the two points.
- Society that failed women and young people have the highest debt to these single mothers as without them society would have nothing as they are the ones who support the future generation with their utmost being. So society instead of demonizing and shunning them let’s pay a tribute to them. Look at it theoretically, if single mothers abandon their children, would society be able to afford to look after them? The writer answers ‘no’ because the economy will just go bust in trying to achieve what these single mothers have achieved.
- A woman must be an International woman in order to represent all women, single mum or otherwise.
Endnote: The Author is a solicitor of England & Wales, an active human rights campaigner and writer with a feminist edge. Piya ‘s work includes generating awareness amongst the community and challenging discrimination, bigotry and hypocrisy that affects Immigrants and all communities’ at large, creating barriers and causing alienation and segregation.