Investing in women is the highest-return venture – Sonia Gandhi

Speaking at the Commonwealth Lecture in London, Sonia Gandhi called for women’s voices and concerns to be heard in the global climate change debate, to “help the world find a more sustainable and less consumerist path to development”.

“Among all the challenges facing humankind in the twenty-first century, few are more pressing than climate change and global warming.

“Unfortunately… most of the climate debate so far has been gender-blind. Yet women have played a special role in raising environmental consciousness… Indira Gandhi herself… in 1972, powerfully expressed the link between poverty and environmental degradation, an issue which continues to shape the current debate.”

Gandhi also reminded the Commonwealth that “investing in women is the highest-return venture”, and said that “if urbanisation is the world’s future, we must design urban environments and services in ways that will give women greater security”.

Gandhi, President of the Indian National Congress Party and Chair of the United Progressive Alliance, was discussing the 2011 Commonwealth theme, ‘Women as Agents of Change’.

She set out in her lecture five areas in which women have emerged as ‘agents of change’ in India.

These included self-help groups pooling savings and securing loans for local projects; new, elected roles for women in rural self-government; social activism through the establishment of the language of human rights for women; the establishment of local enterprise collectives, some of which have been replicated elsewhere in Asia; and the setting up of village information centres and IT kiosks.

Gandhi, who is of Italian descent and was married to India’s late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, added that women’s enterprise also played a role in regions ravaged by violence and conflict, and within India, these groups had taken the lead in mediating, peace-building and reconciliation in areas of strife. Her husband Rajiv Gandhi as well as her mother-in-law India Gandhi, were while serving the politically volatile country as prime ministers.

“Today, women in India are becoming agents of change through their own initiative, their energy and enterprise.

“Through individual and collective action, they are transforming their own situations and indeed transforming the broader social context itself… India is at the cusp of a ‘demographic dividend’, due to its young and increasingly educated and skilled population.

“Imagine what might happen when this demographic dividend is multiplied by a ‘gender dividend’. It will, I believe, yield enormous economic gain and lead to profound social transformation.”

Probably referring to India’s IT skill-strength, Gandhi highlighted the “powerful” role of technology in reducing gender inequalities through the creation of IT sector jobs allowing women to live independently, and the proliferation of knowledge-based enterprises run by women in rural areas, allowing them to access government services.

Gandhi concluded that she hoped the twenty-first century would be when women achieved equality: “May this be, not the century of any particular country, but the century when women finally come into their own, the century when representative democracy is re-imagined to give women their due share, the century when the vocabulary of politics and culture is re-engineered fully to include that other half of mankind.” In the coming years, we could see more women in the IT sector, obtaining aacsb online mba degrees, and becoming activists.


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