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All that we did

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NILANJANA S. ROY   |     |   Published 26.12.04, 12:00 AM

What did women do in 2004? They won prizes. The year saw three Nobel Laureates ? Elfriede Jelinek for literature, Wangari Mathai for peace and Linda Buck along with Axel Buck for medicine.

Women survived and protested violence against women: honour killings in Pakistan, female infanticide in India, serial killings in Canada and the US, trafficking and rape, war crimes against local women and against women officers.

They rallied. And waved banners, and did readings and impromptu theatre. A million women in America, joined by thousands more across the world, marched against the war in Iraq. Some women protested the existence of headscarves; some women, wearing headscarves, marched to protest bans against the hijab in France. There were anti-abortion marches and marches for the rights of women to make their own choices about their own bodies. In Manipur, women marched naked in protest against the rape and killing of one of their own.

And they did other things. One woman set a record for swallowing swords: Amy Saunders swallowed seven before her stomach protested. Some of the fads women chose to endorse mystified feminists: Botox treatments were hugely popular in 2004. So was the Brazilian bikini wax, a method of removing hair from an area of the female anatomy that contains a very high number of nerve endings, guaranteeing maximum pain in a minimum period of time.

Many women joined hands and filed gender discrimination suits against their white-collar employees. Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Boeing and Wal-Mart were among the companies who discovered in 2004 that their female employees were not willing to remain second-class citizens any longer. Salary surveys revealed that while women typically worked in low-paying sectors, and were paid less in medical institutions, charities, and in academia, awareness of the ?gender pay gap? had risen in 2004. Tech firms led the way, offering more equal pay packets than any other industry.

Other women helped to reinvent marriage; as gays brought the issue of civil unions to the fore, lesbian marriage was on the upswing. In Amritsar, Raju and Mala staved off family displeasure and lawsuits to go through a marriage ceremony.

Some set strange records. Rachel Stevens had the most concerts in the most cities in seven days than any other performer. The two most influential people in publishing turned out to be Oprah Winfrey, whose endorsement of a book can push it up several hundred places onto the bestseller lists, and J. K . Rowling, whose Potter saga has singlehandedly rescued flagging book sales. Laura Mundy set a record for sock-wearing when she managed to fit 50 socks onto one foot in a Guinness Book attempt.

And as always, women survived. Some to a very old age, like Hendrikje Van Andel-Schipper, who at almost 114 years is now the oldest woman in the world. To her, and everyone else who goes into 2005 with new hopes and dreams: have a great New Year.

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