Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Faust, Pelosi and Hillary:Women on the rise

Would Hillary break the glass ceiling?

From The Statesman

Behold! Women are on the rise in the United States of America.
A few months ago, Harvard University selected Dr Drew Gilpin Faust, a historian of American civilization, as the first woman president in its 371-year history. She would replace Larry Summers who got into trouble with the Ivy League faculty two years ago by wondering loudly in a politically incorrect manner as to why in spite of all the equal opportunities, women did not do as well as men in sciences. Dr Faust’s appointment would not turn women into Nobel laureates but she has been given a chance to end sex in equities. As she said in response to a question, “There is a lot of work still to be done, especially in the sciences.”

In the beginning of the year, the USA marked another milestone by electing Ms Nancy Pelosi as the first woman Speaker of the House of Representatives, one of the most powerful political offices in the country from where she can exercise tremendous influence and shape political events especially bringing about a closure to the war in Iraq, so that the USA could concentrate on Afghanistan. As a grandmother of six, Speaker Pelosi is an exemplar of what a determined woman can do in the USA, for example, competing with big boys and beating them at their own games.

But the woman to watch today is Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. In one of the meetings she said: “I may be the most famous person you really don’t know.” And so, “Let’s chat.” Of course once upon a time she was the First Lady and a woman who was wronged by her husband, whom eventually she forgave, and transcending her personal grief and humiliation, she rose to be a Senator. She is tough as steel and that’s why she voted for the 2002 Iraqi War Resolution, which was however based upon wrong intelligence.

Now as a Democratic aspirant for the White House, Senator Clinton, along with Speaker Pelosi and other Democrats, has been thinking how to undo the wrong in Iraq without jeopardizing the war against terrorism. Whatever Senator Clinton’s critics might say about her, it is impossible not to be touched by her passion for the plight of women and children and her desire to turn compassion into political action. Her nurturing feminine side as tender as ever.

On her visit to India in 1995 as the First Lady, she met in New Delhi the Lady Sri Ram College principal Meenakshi Gopinath, who gave her a poem, Silence, written by a student Anasuya Sengupta, which summed up for Hillary the patient suffering of women the world over.

Too many women
In two many countries
Speak the same language.
Of silence…
I seek only to forget
The sorrow of my grandmother’s

Senator Clinton said that silence had become the metaphor through which she explored the sufferings of women in the USA and the rest of the world. But by coming out fearlessly and explaining courageously her pain and suffering and humiliation in her memoir, Living History, she gave a new meaning to the poem: “We seek only to give words/ to those who cannot speak.”

On her visit to Ahmedabad she had met another wonderful woman, Ela Bhatt, who has been breaking the silence of the poorest of the poor women by opening for them economic opportunities through the Self-Employed Women’s Association (Sewa), whose loan program to women have been enlarging their economic and personal freedoms and has given them self-respect and dignity, the way micro-loan programs have been doing in Bangladesh.

Senator Clinton wrote at that time: “I was overwhelmed and uplifted to be in the midst of women who were working to overcome their own hardships as well centuries of oppression. For me, they were a living affirmation of the importance of human rights.” During the visit, Senator Clinton had found the same intense desire for economic independence and personal freedom also among Bangladeshi women, who have been trying to achieve their salvation through Grameen Bank run by Dr Muhammad Yunus ~ now a Nobel Laureate ~ who told her that access to credit is “a fundamental human right.” What a noble and compassionate thought!

A Muslim woman told her in a public meeting: “We are sick of the mullahs. They are always trying to keep women down.”

This is the real clash of civilizations: Between religious fundamentalists and women who refuse to remain silent. The USA might withdraw from Iraq, but war against terrorism is forever. According to Senator Clinton’s own account, she has been working on women and children’s issues for decades but the Indian girl’s poem "Silence" crystallised her thinking, which she turned into a passion. She carried that passion even to China at the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on Women in 2000.

Now Senator Hillary Clinton is seeking the highest political office in the USA and her victory in 2008 would change the face of the increasingly interconnected world as nothing else has done before.

(ND Batra is the author of a forthcoming book, Digital Freedom, to be published by Rowman & Littlefield in August)

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