March 8 every year is International Women’s Day (IWD), a day celebrated with pomp and excitement. Had it not been for Covid-19, we would be expecting to be treated to the usual hype, especially in Uganda. But when and how did this day come about?
Out of the need to create civil awareness about women’s, and by extension, girls’ rights, it was first established in August 1910 at the International Socialist Women’s Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Denmark celebrated the holiday for the first time on March 19, 1911, with the Soviet Union being the first to make it as a public holiday in 1917.
In the USA it had been observed earlier, on February 28, 1908, in New York City, inspired partly by the American Socialists, German delegates, Clara Zetkin, Käte Duncker and Paula Thiede, among others.
The date of March 8 was adopted internationally in 1921. In 1977, the United Nations declared March 8 as International Women’s Day, a day set apart every year to celebrate, recognise and remember women and their accomplishments in society – economically, culturally and politically!
Every year, the IWD has a theme usually linked to the prevailing situation. For 2021, the IWD’s theme is: ‘Choose to Challenge’ while that of the UN Women is: ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid-19 world.’ The two, respectively aim at calling out gender bias and inequality and to celebrate the tremendous efforts by women in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic!
Whereas I do not in any way despise these themes and aims, I feel, specifically in Uganda, that the theme would be: ‘Unsung heroines’ to reflect the plight of our many street-vendor-mothers, who constantly watch their backs and run for survival at the onslaught of KCCA law enforcers; the wretched poor mothers in the slums and the countryside, who strenuously offer their labour as the only means to finding food and school fees for their children; mothers in refugee camps and internally displaced camps (IDPs), who desperately seek to keep their children fed, warm and protected like a mother hen that gathers her chicks under her wings, etc.
I have nothing personal against celebrating high-profile women leaders for theirs is a given, but it appears that their celebration obscures the plight of poor and suffering women!
I remember musician Rema Namakula’s song, Singa Si Mukyala, Singa Si Maama, Singa Sasoma (Had it not been for a woman, my mother, I would never have attained an education).
How many of us Ugandans, including the high-profile women, feel like that? How many women in our communities continue with this painful struggle? Today, we are who we are largely because of women - our mothers, etc.
Recently, when I went to Buhweju District, I saw how women there struggled to fend for their children. My heart pitifully beats for them and I have determined to support mothers and girls the best way I can. Quite often, men have shamelessly abused women physically and emotionally.
They need support. Luckily, most women exponentially grow from meagre resources. So, while we celebrate women leaders, let us also think about the wretched and unsung heroines!