International Women's Day is a global celebration of the economic, political, and social achievements of women past, present, and future. The first IWD was observed on 19 March 1911 in Germany following a declaration by the Socialist Party of America. The idea of having an international women's day was first put forward at the turn of the 20th century amid rapid world industrialization and economic expansion that led to protests over working conditions. 8 March sees extensive global women's activity. Today social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook and Youtube significantly contribute to fuel International Women's Day activity.
2011 sees the International Women's Day centenary fall on the same say as Shrove (pancake) Tuesday. 100 years on, International Women's Day (IWD) has become a global mainstream phenomena celebrated across many countries and is an official holiday in approximately 25 countries including Afghanistan, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam and Zambia.
Every celebration has glorious and struggling history behind its genesis and stature. India is also not exception in accepting the truth women gone through tremendous arduous phases in several time phases. However, its inherent strength stands it among the best in every field since ancient India. Time and again, it has proved it supremacy over there.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has stated, "Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance."
Unfortunately, women in this country are mostly unaware of their rights because of illiteracy and the oppressive tradition. Names like Kalpana Chawla - The Indian born NASA Scientist, who fought her way up into NASA and was the first women in space, Indira Gandhi - The Iron Woman of India was the Prime Minister of the Nation, Beauty Queens like Aishwarya Rai and Susmita Sen, and Mother Teresa are not representative of the condition of Indian women.
The status of women in India has been subject to many great changes over the past few millennia. From equal status with men in ancient times through the low points of the medieval period, to the promotion of equal rights by many reformers, the history of women in India has been eventful.
In modern India, women have adorned high offices in India including that of the President, Prime minister, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Leader of Opposition, etc. The current President of India is a woman.
Glorious journey of our women
Ancient India In ancient India, the women enjoyed equal status with men in all fields of life. However, some others hold contrasting views. Works by ancient Indian grammarians such as Patanjali and Katyayana suggest that women were educated in the early Vedic period.
Rigvedic verses suggest that the women married at a mature age and were probably free to select their husband. Scriptures such as Rig Veda and Upanishads mention several women sages and seers, notably Gargi and Maitreyi. Some kingdoms in the ancient India had traditions such as nagarvadhu ("bride of the city"). Women competed to win the coveted title of the nagarvadhu. Amrapali is the most famous example of a nagarvadhu.
Medieval period The Indian woman's position in the society further deteriorated during the medieval period when Sati, child marriages and a ban on widow remarriages became part of social life among some communities in India. In spite of these conditions, some women excelled in the fields of politics, literature, education and religion.
Razia Sultana became the only woman monarch to have ever ruled Delhi.
Chand Bibi defended Ahmednagar against the mighty Mughal forces of Akbar in 1590s.
Jehangir's wife Nur Jehan effectively wielded imperial power and was recognized as the real force behind the Mughal throne.
The Mughal princesses Jahanara and Zebunnissa were well-known poets, and also influenced the ruling administration.
Shivaji's mother, Jijabai was deputed as queen regent, because of her ability as a warrior and an administrator.
In South India, many women administered villages, towns, divisions and heralded social and religious institutions.
Mirabai, a female saint-poet, was one of the most important Bhakti movement figures. Some other female saint-poets from this period include Akka Mahadevi, Rami Janabai and Lal Ded.
British rule European scholars observed in the 19th century that Hindu women are "naturally chaste" and "more virtuous" than other women. During the British Raj, many reformers such as Ram Mohan Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Jyotirao Phule etc. fought for the upliftment of women.
Kittur Chennamma, the queen of the princely state Kittur in Karnataka, led an armed rebellion against the British in response to the Doctrine of lapse.
Abbakka Rani the queen of coastal Karnataka led the defence against invading European armies notably the Portuguese in 16th century.
Rani Lakshmi Bai, the Queen of Jhansi, led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 against the British. She is now widely considered as a nationalist hero.
Begum Hazrat Mahal, the co-ruler of Awadh, was another ruler who led the revolt of 1857. She refused the deals with the British and later retreated to Nepal.
The Begums of Bhopal were also few of the notable female rulers during this period. They did not observe purdah and were trained in martial arts.
Chandramukhi Basu, Kadambini Ganguly and Anandi Gopal Joshi were few of the earliest Indian women to obtain educational degrees.
Women played an important part in India's independence struggle. Some of the famous freedom fighters include Bhikaji Cama, Dr. Annie Besant, Pritilata Waddedar, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Aruna Asaf Ali, Sucheta Kriplani and Kasturba Gandhi.
Other notable names include Muthulakshmi Reddy, Durgabai Deshmukh etc.
The Rani of Jhansi Regiment of Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army consisted entirely of women including Captain Lakshmi Sahgal.
Sarojini Naidu, a poet and a freedom fighter, was the first Indian woman to become the President of the Indian National Congress and the first woman to become the governor of a state in India.
Independent India Women in India now participate in all activities such as education, sports, politics, media, art and culture, service sectors, science and technology, etc. Indira Gandhi, who served as Prime Minister of India for an aggregate period of fifteen years is the world's longest serving woman Prime Minister.
The Constitution of India guarantees to all Indian women equality (Article 14), no discrimination by the State (Article 15(1)), equality of opportunity (Article 16), equal pay for equal work (Article 39(d)). In addition, it allows special provisions to be made by the State in favour of women and children (Article 15(3)), renounces practices derogatory to the dignity of women (Article 51(A) (e)), and also allows for provisions to be made by the State for securing just and humane conditions of work and for maternity relief. (Article 42).
Since alcoholism is often associated with violence against women in India, many women groups launched anti-liquor campaigns in Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and other states.
Many Indian Muslim women have questioned the fundamental leaders' interpretation of women's rights under the Shariat law and have criticized the triple talaq system. In 1990s, grants from foreign donor agencies enabled the formation of new women-oriented NGOs. Self-help groups and NGOs such as Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) have played a major role in women's rights in India.
Many women have emerged as leaders of local movements. For example, Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan.
The Government of India declared 2001 as the Year of Women's Empowerment (Swashakti). The National Policy for the Empowerment of Women was passed in 2001.
In 2010 March 9, one day after International Women's day, Rajyasabha passed Women's Reservation Bill, ensuring 33% reservation to women in Parliament and state legislative bodies.
Contrary to the common perception, a large percent of women in India work. In urban India, women have impressive number in the workforce. As an example at software industry 30% of the workforce is female. They are at par with their male counter parts in terms of wages, position at the work place.
One of the most famous female business success stories is the Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad. In 2006, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, who started Biocon - one of India's first biotech companies, was rated India's richest woman.
Lalita Gupte and Kalpana Morparia running India's second-largest bank, ICICI Bank both were the only businesswomen in India who came in list of the Forbes World's Most Powerful Women.
Singers and vocalists such as M S Subbulakshmi, Gangubai Hangal, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle are widely revered in India. Anjolie Ela Menon is one of the famous painters.
Although the general sports scenario in India is not very good, some Indian women have made notable achievements in the field. Some of the famous female sportspersons in Indian include P. T. Usha, J. J. Shobha (athletics), Kunjarani Devi (weightlifting), Diana Edulji (cricket), Saina Nehwal (badminton) , Koneru Hampi (chess) and Sania Mirza (tennis). Karnam Malleswari (weightlifter), is the only Indian woman to have won an Olympic medal (Bronze medal in 2000).
Through the Panchayat Raj institutions, over a million women have actively entered political life in India. As per the 73rd and 74th Constitutional Amendment Acts, all local elected bodies reserve one-third of their seats for women.
Although the percentages of women in various levels of political activity have risen considerably, women are still under-represented in governance and decision making positions.
Many well known women writers are in Indian literature as poets and story writers. Sarojini Naidu, Kamala Surayya, Shobha De, Arundhati Roy, Anita Desai are some of them.
Sarojini Naidu is called the nightingale of India. Arundhati Roy was awarded the Booker Prize for her novel "The God of Small things".
Highlights of steady change in women position:
1879: John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune established the Bethune School in 1849, which developed into the Bethune College in 1879, thus becoming the first women's college in India.
1883: Chandramukhi Basu and Kadambini Ganguly became the first female graduates of India and the British Empire.
1886: Kadambini Ganguly and Anandi Gopal Joshi became the first women from India to be trained in Western medicine.
1905: Suzanne RD Tata becomes the first Indian woman to drive a car.
1916: The first women's university, SNDT Women's University, was founded on June 2, 1916 by the social reformer Dhondo Keshav Karve with just five students.
1917: Annie Besant became the first female president of the Indian National Congress.
1919: For her distinguished social service, Pandita Ramabai became the first Indian woman to be awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind by the British Raj.
1925: Sarojini Naidu became the first Indian born female president of the Indian National Congress
1927: The All India Women's Conference was founded.
1944: Asima Chatterjee became the first Indian woman to be conferred the Doctorate of Science by an Indian university
1947: On August 15, 1947, following independence, Sarojini Naidu became the governor of the United Provinces, and in the process became India's first woman governor.
1951: Prem Mathur of the Deccan Airways becomes the first Indian women commercial pilot.
1953: Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit became the first woman (and first Indian) president of the United Nations General Assembly
1959: Anna Chandy becomes the first Indian woman judge of a High Court (Kerala High Court)
1963: Sucheta Kriplani became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the first woman to hold that position in any Indian state.
1966: Captain Durga Banerjee becomes the first Indian woman pilot of the state airline, Indian Airlines.
1966: Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay wins Ramon Magsaysay award for community leadership.
1966: Indira Gandhi becomes the first woman Prime Minister of India.
1970: Kamaljit Sandhu becomes the first Indian woman to win a Gold in the Asian Games
1972: Kiran Bedi becomes the first female recruit to join the Indian Police Service.
1979: Mother Teresa wins the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first Indian female citizen to do so.
1984: On May 23, Bachendri Pal became the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest.
1989: Justice M. Fathima Beevi becomes the first woman judge of the Supreme Court of India.
1997: Kalpana Chawla becomes the first India-born woman to go into space.
1992: Priya Jhingan becomes the first lady cadet to join the Indian Army (later commissioned on March 6, 1993)
1994: Harita Kaur Deol becomes the first Indian woman pilot in the Indian Air Force (IAF), on a solo flight.
2000: Karnam Malleswari became the first Indian woman to win an Olympic medal (bronze medal in the 2000 Summer Olympics at Sydney)
2002: Lakshmi Sahgal became the first Indian woman to run for the post of President of India.
2004: Punita Arora became the first woman in the Indian Army to don the highest rank of Lieutenant General.
2007: Pratibha Patil becomes the first woman President of India.
2009: Meira Kumar became the first woman Speaker of Lok Sabha, the lower house in India.