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March 6, 2007 : Flag bearers of women’s emancipation

© UNICEF/India/2007
International Women's day celebrations

By Rama Srinivasan

6 March 2007, New Delhi: It was a day that belonged to women from the periphery. Although Mrs. Sonia Gandhi was clearly the star of the event and Renuka Chowdhury, Minister of State for Women and Child Development, was the gracious host, it was the women from the interiors of Bihar and Tamil Nadu who stayed on in the memories of people present in the National Stadium on March 6, 2007

Veena Devi, a Sarpanch from Bihar, and the Shakti Dal, a group of Tamil artistes, impressed the audience with their spontaneity and novelty at the ceremony organised to unfurl a special flag for Women’s Empowerment. The flag, a colourful tribute to womanhood, bears the slogan: Survival to Success, Celebrate Her Life.

The ceremony is part of the Ministry of Women and Child Development and UNICEF’s week-long celebrations, the Ananya Festival, to mark the International Women’s Day on March 8.

The government plans to spread the message of empowerment on train tickets, postage stamps and letters. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi said the flag would be unfurled across the country during the next two days. Renuka Chowdhury added that the flag would become the means to inform people that ‘empowered women’ live in its vicinity as well as a constant reminder of women’s contribution in the nation-building process.

But the function was not only about symbolism.  Veena, who has been repeatedly elected Sarpanch of the Laharpur Panchayat of the Newada district, said she countered hurdles in her path with the hope of becoming another ‘Indira Gandhi’ one day. For her, meeting Sonia Gandhi, whom she has only seen on television, signified empowerment.

The performance by Shakti Dal combined heavy percussion instruments with some spirited dancing to signify freedom of the physical self. These Dalit women from Tamil Nadu’s Dindigul district not only overcame caste-based stereotypes but also patriarchal attitudes by taking up a strictly male art form.

© UNICEF/India/2007
Unfurling a special flag for Women’s Empowerment

 “While the women were accorded voting rights at the very beginning, in practice society has largely been unjust towards women,” Sonia Gandhi said. Pointing to the skewed gender ratios and the illiteracy, malnourishment and discrimination in the workplace that girls and women have to endure, she said success of a few women should draw our attention towards the millions who remain disadvantaged.

For her, the success of women in panchayats, the proliferation of self-help groups and the opportunities provided by laws like Right to Information and Protection against Domestic Violence is the way forward.  The Minister for Panchayati Raj, Mr. Mani Shankar Aiyar supported this contention, stressing that the presence of one million women panchayat leaders in India, more than anywhere in the world, has strengthened India’s democracy.

The versatile, multi-lingual singer Usha Utthup regaled an audience of more than 5,000 with her foot-tapping songs on women’s power and the strength of femininity
  – and kept the crowd asking for more.

There will be felicitation ceremony for women achievers on March 9 by Lok Sabha speaker Somnath Chatterjee.



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