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India a global role model for women's empowerment: Blake

By Aziz Haniffa
September 22, 2011 09:08 IST

The Obama administration's point man for South Asia, Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake has said that India is a role model for women's empowerment on the world stage.

Blake, keynoting the first Women's Empowerment conference organised by the National Federation of Indian American Associations in its nearly two-decades-old history, said, "India is really serving as a sort of role model for women's empowerment on the world stage -- women in India are political leaders, captains of industry and business, social innovators, occupy positions as heads of village panchayats, senior government officials."

Besides the president of India being a woman, the senior US official said, "Four chief ministers are women and both the former Indian ambassador (to the US, Meera Shankar) and the current ambassador to the US (Nirupama Rao) are women," he said.

"The astounding number of women CEOs in India also presents a very powerful example to others, including many of us here in the West," he added.

Blake, who said that he rushed straight from the airport after arriving from New Delhi "to honour this very important topic of empowerment of women," joked that he "doesn't need much persuasion about the importance of women's empowerment -- I have three very powerful daughters and a very powerful wife."

He also pointed out that "I also have a boss -- who many of you may have heard of (Secretary of State Hllary Clinton)."

"But in all seriousness," he said, "she (Clinton) has done so much to make gender a part of every aspect of American foreign policy and I am so proud of her for doing that. She's said that empowered women and girls are not just an issue of morality and fairness, it is a security, prosperity and peace issue."

Thus, Blake argued that "integrating women's issues into American foreign policy is not only the right thing to do, but women and girls are really powerful agents of change."

He said, "The Secretary has spoken very eloquently about how sending a girl to school benefits not just her, but also everyone around her. She's said that studies show that educated and economically empowered women are more likely to purchase more goods and services for the household and specifically for their children, including food and health care and education, which are all key factors in strengthening and securing communities."

Blake said, "As you know, a very vibrant cooperation is underway between the US and India across a huge range of issues -- in food security, nonproliferation, combating climate change -- but what is not known is that women's empowerment is at the height of what we are trying to do."

He said, "The US and India have started the women's empowerment dialogue and under that dialogue, we are continuing to explore ways that our two countries can collaborate on both social and economic development and in the political empowerment of women."

Blake noted that in July, during the Second US-India Strategic Dialogue, "The Secretary had a wonderful event down in Chennai with the Working Women's Forum and several hundred women participated from Tamil Nadu and all over southern India."

He also said that she had also visited with "some terrific women," who were an integral part of the Clean Stoves Initiative, and also recalled Clinton's longtime personal relationship with her good friend and leading woman activist Ela Bhatt, the founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association.

However, Blake acknowledged that for all of the progress both in the US and India, "We know that obstacles still exist -- it remains harder for women and girls to attend schools, get jobs, and start businesses."

"Violence against women also remains an issue of concern and there is a powerful connection between violence against women and an unending circle of women who are abused who are unable to grow at their full potential."

Blake spoke of the organisation called Vital Voices in the US, "which is a terrific example of how the United States government can help facilitate economic, political and social empowerment" in India and across the world, and recalled that "last year, Vital Voices launched a huge regional leadership training program in Delhi to strengthen the network of regional women leaders across all sectors, cultural and generations."

"Now as we continue to work on how to empower women and girls, we look forward to partnering with Indian Americans and organisations like NFIA because you can provide the network and knowledge and help us to empower women," he said. "Many of you in this room can help to provide a crucial mentoring and training and other support necessary to empower women and girls."

Blake predicted that "India, fueled by a young, optimistic, dynamic and educated population, would be one of the great stories of our time."

But, he argued that "we know that the government alone cannot realise the full promise of this potential and that's why we need your ideas, your energy, and your commitment. You will help write the next chapter in US-India relations."

"We can help empower more and more of India's women and in the process, transform the world," he said.

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC