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Suu Kyi pushes for women’s empowerment

Women empowerment will present valuable models for her country to emulate, she said
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First Published: Sun, Nov 18 2012. 11 20 PM IST
Suu Kyi concluded her four-day visit to India on Sunday. Photo: PTI
Suu Kyi concluded her four-day visit to India on Sunday. Photo: PTI
Papasanipalli/Anantapur (Andhra Pradesh): Myanmar’s opposition leader and pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi hopes to see more Indian women leading the country’s social and economic empowerment programmes, saying this would present valuable models for her country to emulate.
Rounding off her four-day visit to India—the first in 25 years—with a tour of some villages in Andhra Pradesh over the weekend, Suu Kyi evinced a keen interest in the social empowerment programmes run by the government, including the flagship rural job-guarantee scheme.
She left India on Sunday after visiting the premier Indian Institute of Science and Infosys Ltd in Bangalore—capping four days of interaction with a wide cross-section in India, from Indian political leaders to the civil society.
On Saturday, the Nobel peace laureate, accompanied by rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, visited several villages in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh, considered a model state for various steps taken to eradicate poverty and empower people.
Huge hoardings with welcome messages dotted the area near the helipad where she landed on Saturday.
According to Ramesh, it was in Anantapur district that the central government launched its flagship employment scheme six years ago mainly because of its dubious reputation of having the highest levels of migration and farmers’ suicides due to indebtedness.
The second-driest district in the country after Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, Anantapur is also where the women’s self-help groups movement was launched in 1996, the minister said. Suu Kyi was briefed about India’s jobs programme that guarantees 100 days of employment per year to every poor rural household.
The Myanmarese leader was also given an overview of the functioning of women’s self-help groups who start small businesses with loans from commercial banks at concessional rates. Some of the groups that become self-sufficient over time also lend money to other needy women.
Speaking to reporters later, Suu Kyi said she was “encouraged by the fact that women here (in India) are coming more and more to the fore and they have more economic power. Economic power by itself does not get rid of gender discrimination but it’s certainly a step in the right direction,” she said.
That gender equality and women issues were a subject close to her heart came out when in Papasanipalli village, she was introduced to a poor family that had benefited from money lended by a self-help group.
Suu Kyi questioned how the family managed daily life—including how much they spent on their food daily, what the three boys of the household wanted to do when they finished studying and whether they would like to marry women with jobs.
That little escaped her notice was amply illustrated when on being asked what was the most striking feature
of rural Indian life that she had noticed, Suu Kyi said: “When I first came, in
the crowds that gathered, there were very few women. Of course, when I got to the community (villages) there were women but I think it was because it
was organized for the women to be there.”
Suu Kyi concluded her visit to the village with a short speech to a group of women in the same village, saying: “My name means a bright collection of many unusual victories. You must work for your victories.”
At the end of the trip, when asked what differences she saw in India from her previous visit in 1987, Suu Kyi said her basic assessment was that “India was still India.”
“There has been progress in the empowerment of people,” she said.
“But it has to be handled the right way so that empowerment becomes the strength of the nation.”
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First Published: Sun, Nov 18 2012. 11 20 PM IST