Britain’s leading barrister and wife of former British PM Tony Blair, talks about women empowerment and gender inequality in India.
Gender inequality exists globally and it exists in various variables. While financial inequality is one of the biggest aspects, the fact that it transcends in other verticals is equally alarming.
The situation is worse in under developing countries where women are seen as the second citizen and education of a girl child is still not a priority. In her recent visit to India, Cherie Blair, Britain’s leading barrister and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the similar observations.
Speaking at the Queensline Lit Fest, touted as India's first literature fest on the sea, Cherie says that she was unaware of the cultural issues, stigmas and taboos around women in India, particularly widows.
“In my country, women suffer after losing their husband financially, in particular, because they lose the pension benefits, but cultural issues around widows and women are there in India, Africa and other parts of Asia, which I wasn’t aware at the beginning,” says the committed campaigner for widows’ and women’s rights.
Taking the conversation further, Britain’s former first lady notes that women are not a piece of furniture but are powerful creatures and have right to equal progress and power in society, but their education has not been given enough priority.
As a result of which, ‘India, as an amazing country, is losing the inputs of 50% of its population,’ asserts the lawyer and adds, “How many girls have the right to choose a career? The percentage is just 27, which is worse than Bangladesh which is a much poorer country than India.”
Stating that women are not given equal chances and opportunities, she stresses the importance of financial independence for women.
“It is important to make women economically active to support them because I feel a woman who earns her own money has control over her money and choices which she couldn’t otherwise make, so to think about how can women become financially independent is very important,” she firmly states and appreciates the change in the Panchayat (Local Council) system in India where every local council has a woman head.
“Women in the position of power have changed the way of the local money is spent on the different priorities, and the attitudes have changed,” she says adding that these women have started talking about primary necessities like roads, sanitation, toilets which men have overlooked. She also indirectly suggests that Indian voters should see the Panchayat system and work done by the person in power to cast their vote.
While many say that women are struggling between balancing their work life and taking care of the household chores, Cherie rationalises this popular belief stating that more men are saying that ‘I am just not the wage gainer, I am also a father, husband and a friend in my community’.
For Cherie, it is not just the strict division of labour among men and women or putting people into fixed roles but understanding their similarities. “No family grows if it doesn’t have a father figure, just the way it needs the mother it needs an active father. Depriving children of father doesn’t make sense,” she explains.
Viewing on the ongoing fight of women who are denied entry in Sabarimala temple because of taboos and patriarchal powers as the subjugation of women’s rights, Cherie says, “India scores very less as far as gender equality is concerned. India has a lot of resources for change but it isn’t working.”
The last year’s parliamentary elections in the UK started counting the votes of Indian residents there. Accepting that the Indian community living there is a success story, Cherie takes the name of two highly successful Indians - Hinduja and Mittal groups.
“Of course, things have happened in the past but at present, it is like everything of India is embraced,” smiles the former first lady and adds that there is huge respect for both the countries and we love ‘Masala Paneer Tikka’.