India – advances for women


Last week was a dramatic and important week for women in India.  On March 8 (International Women’s Day), the Upper House of Parliament narrowly failed to pass the “Women’s Reservation Bill.”  The bill is designed to reserve 33% of positions in gram panchayat (the village assembly, which is a form of local village government) for women.  But after a good deal of horse-trading, the bill was passed on March 9 – by a vote of 186 to 1!

The next day (I was in Chennai, India), the women with whom I spoke were absolutely ebullient.  They believe that having an increased presence of women in these assemblies will result in a significant shift in attention to the needs of the disadvantaged and downtrodden. 

In my first week here in India, I have been struck by the growing role that women are playing in “first-world” business.  Although they are still a minority and are significantly under-represented in senior positions, they are a visible and vocal presence.  But their role remains very tradition-bound in the villages.  And that is why this new legislation is so important.

In their beautiful saris and other forms of Indian dress, women here often look like jewels as they float down the dusty streets or congregate in the markets.  It is astonishing the degree of beauty and serenity that they add to the chaotic cacophony called India.  Even very poor women, working at construction sites, shoveling dirt into a bucket and then hauling it away on their heads, somehow do this in a sari that continues to look pretty darn good.

I marvel at their stamina, and what it must require of them to do all that they do: from working as the lowest-paid laborer, to raising their children, and feeding their families.  And there are literally hundreds of millions of them.  As this power begins to be unleashed, India will become an even greater economic power than it already is.  The potential is both evident and awesome.


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