New Delhi, 8 October 2012—At the village assembly meeting or Gram Sabha in Barrod village of Rajasthan’s Alwar district on 5 October, almost 5000 men and women gathered to promote the rights of girls and education for all. The Barrod village assembly announced a special cash transfer scheme for the first-born girl in families, rewarding them with a bank deposit of Rs. 1100, to mature only after the girl turns 20.
“Girls are an important fabric of society — without them we are nothing. Without them, we don’t have mothers, daughters or sisters,” said Manjulata Sharma whose granddaughter is one of beneficiaries of this new scheme.
To launch the scheme, the Gram Sabha had a special guest — UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet.
To Manjulata and others, Ms. Bachelet’s message was simple: “The Gram Sabha is the cornerstone of this great venture of equality and democracy. If you use it and succeed, you will change India and the world for the better — and the change will be felt now and for generations to come.”
During her three-day visit to India from 3 to 5 October, her first as Executive Director of UN Women, Ms. Bachelet made a strong case for women’s political participation and economic empowerment.
“Unlocking women’s potential and increasing their political and economic participation and leadership is critical from the district offices to the corporate boardroom, from the Lok Sabha to the village panchayats,” Ms. Bachelet said. “This will send a clear message to the world that India is leading the way for democracy, for women and for equality.”
From meetings with elected women leaders in local bodies, to dialogue with senior state and national officials as well as the top-most political leaders and India’s President, the Executive Director reiterated her message of cooperation and partnership to accelerate India’s progress.
“I truly appreciate and value the Government of India’s strong support for UN Women. During my trip, I have received strong assurances of continued political and financial support. I would like to thank the Government for being the leading developing country to have made a significant financial contribution to UN Women,” she said at the end of her visit.
Ms. Bachelet visited India at the invitation of the Lok Sabha Speaker, Meira Kumar and the Government of India. In her keynote address at the Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference of Women Speakers of Parliament in India, she said: “Parliaments and government should lead by example. By listening to women from the grassroots, you can make sure that their needs are addressed and their rights are protected through the passage of laws, policies and budgets.” During her meeting with the Speaker, Ms. Bachelet congratulated Ms. Kumar on being a model speaker and setting an example for others.
In her meeting with the President of India, Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, Ms. Bachelet commended India’s efforts for gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide and in intergovernmental normative fora. This was underlined, she said, through India’s support for the creation of UN Women and its advocacy for gender equality at the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. Ms. Bachelet highlighted initiatives by the Barefoot College, which trains rural women from India and globally on sustainable solar energy, as an example of the leading role the country can play in South-South cooperation.
In New Delhi, the UN Women Executive Director also met with the Leader of the United Progressive Alliance, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, who conveyed India’s strong and abiding commitment to advancing gender equality in India including political participation through the Women’s Reservation Bill, economic empowerment and ending violence against women.
Ms. Bachelet commended progressive legislation, engendering of social protection programmes, and policies for inclusive economic growth. She called for speedy implementation of laws, and encouraged further advances at the federal, regional and local levels, reiterating that India’s successes can have an impact on global advances for gender equality.
In Jaipur, acknowledging the success of India’s experiment in grassroots democracy whereby over 1.5 million elected women representatives have been elected thus far, Ms. Bachelet launched South Asia’s first ever virtual knowledge hub for elected women representatives in rural areas. The launch was attended by more than 200 women leaders, experts and policy makers from South Asia.
Increasing women’s economic role was the focus of Ms. Bachelet’s interaction with scientists, engineers, private sector leaders, and civil society organizations. At a meeting organized jointly by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and UN Women on 3 October, Ms. Bachelet said that the world continues to look to India to take the lead in achieving the goals of economic growth and sustainable development.
“India’s strong and vibrant women’s movement has been central to advancing gender equality and bringing about progress for women in the country and abroad,” she said. “The involvement of all stakeholders, including the private sector, is now needed to achieve transformative change”.
During the visit, the Executive Director also met with top national and state level leaders, including: the Minister of State for External Affairs, Ms. Preneet Kaur; Minister of Trade and Industry, Mr. Anand Sharma; the Governor of Rajasthan, Ms. Margarat Alva; Minister of Panchayati Raj, Government of Odisha, Mr. Kalpataru Das; and Norwegian Ambassador to India, Mr. Eivind Homme.