‘Why aren’t more Indian women empowered?’


New Delhi : Indian women have reached the highest office, yet why isn’t this empowerment trickling down to all levels, asked Syria’s first lady at an interaction with women journalists here Thursday.

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A former investment banker, Asma Akhras al-Assad, 33, arrived nearly an hour late at the Indian Women’s Press Corps, but stayed on longer than the scheduled period. She is accompanying her husband, President Bashar al-Assad, on a five-day state visit to India commencing Tuesday evening.

Dressed in black blouse, brown leather belt and a calf-length pink skirt with brown trimmings, she began with a query of her own about the status of Indian women.

“I have a question which has been on my mind,” said fresh-faced Asma.

“Women in India have reached the highest office and there is a long story of struggle, but when I interacted with activists yesterday, I realised that not all sections of women are able to reach their potential”.

She expressed her interest in understanding this dichotomy in the status of women. “You have achieved what the United States have not been able to do till now, so why is this disparity,” inquired Asma.

The assembled women journalists then fired off questions at her, asking about the exceptional status of Syrian women in the Arab world and the forces that threaten their freedom.

The first lady answered that the high status of Syrian women was due to the “secular nature of the state”. She clarified that there were “pressures” which rendered maintaining this status “increasingly difficult” due to the sectarian forces that are in Syria’s neighbourhood.

To a question whether Syrian women were increasingly taking up the ‘hijab’, Asma said: “The important thing is not how we dress, but if they are active in the community”.

After all, she pointed out that several women parliamentarians, businesswomen and social activists did wear a ‘hijab’, but that was only incidental to their public identity.

While there were demands for quota for women in decision-making bodies in Syria, Asma expressed that she was “personally not in favour of quota”.

“I believe that quota can bring in complacency… the need to excel, compete or struggle may be diminished among woman,” she said.

Towards the end, she expressed her appreciation for the welcome that she got in India on her maiden visit. “I thought that Syrian hospitality was very good, but the hospitality and warmth that we got here was very nice”.