Female leadership has been visible in some levels in South Asia, but there needs to be leadership at the grassroots as well for a significant change. This was stated by associate professor of sociology from Yale-NUS College Anju Mary Paul, who moderated a panel discussion on women empowerment at the fourth South Asian Diaspora Convention (SADC) on 16 November.
According to Paul, there is both “good and bad news" on women’s status in South Asia.
“While the region has overtaken East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa on gender equality, women’s empowerment has dropped between 2005 and 2015", she said.
Speaking at the panel as the inaugural speaker, minister in the prime minister’s office of Singapore, Indranee Rajah, said the country has not been able to solve all gender issues but has made great strides since 1965.
“The reason for the progress derives from one tenet; that we value our women just as we value others in our society," she said.
Rajah stated that Singapore has come a long way on many issues, including literacy rate, female representation, protection of women and women’s health.
“In the 1960s, there were no women members of parliament at all. We have seven women political holders and we hope that there will be more in future," said Rajah.
Singapore’s success story could be attributed to the implementation of new legislation and strengthening of the existing laws.
One such important legislation is the Women’s Charter that was implemented in 1961 to advance the rights of women and girls in Singapore, she said.
According to Rasheda K. Choudhury, executive director at Campaign for Popular Education and former adviser in the Bangladesh caretaker government, women are playing big roles in the agricultural economy, politics, and their impact has also been felt in social leadership. “There needs to be a critical mass on all levels to achieve women’s empowerment" she said.
Aisha Khan, executive director at the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change and chief executive officer at Mountain and Glacier Organization in Pakistan, and Vani Tripathi Tikoo, former national secretary of the Bharatiya Janata Party and member of the Central Board of Film Certification in India, shared perspectives on how the entertainment sector, which has traditionally shown women in stereotypical roles, is projecting them in more empowering roles, including breaking barriers and being agents of their own life. “The entertainment industry is producing new films in which women are given lead roles" Tikoo said.