US President Barack Obama said he was happy to see all the “incredible” women in the Indian armed forces during the Republic Day parade, which he said was a sign of great progress of the country.
In a town hall meeting-style speech at the Siri Fort Auditorium here, his last engagement before he flew off to Saudi Arabia, the US president spoke extensively on the important role of women in building society and also stressed that it is necessary to ensure security to every woman.
Referring to his wife Michelle, who was in the audience, Obama said: “Michelle is not afraid to speak her mind or tell me when I am wrong, which happens very frequently”, to loud cheers from the invited audience that comprised youths, students, NGOs and diplomats. A large percentage of people in the 2,000-strong audience were young women who repeatedly cheered Obama.
He said in the US, the government is “still working to ensure that women and girls have all the opportunities they deserve”, and referred to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has come with him, as a “role model” of women’s empowerment.
Referring to the “wives and mothers” of India who toil to “hold families and communities together”, Obama said the women have shown that “they can succeed in everything”.
He said the young women of India are standing up and playing a part in the country’s progress. “Nations are more successful when their women are successful, when girls go to school”, he said, and added that the most direct measure of how successful a nation is how it treats its women.
“Nations that want to succeed cannot ignore the talents of half their people,” said the US president. Ironically, Obama was going from India to Saudi Arabia, to condole the death of King Abdullah, where women have an inferior position to men, are not allowed to drive or travel unescorted, and have few women in leadership positions in government or society.
He said the menfolk “as fathers, husbands and brothers, we have to step up as every girl deserves as much a chance as the son, every woman should be able to walk the street and ride the bus (with safety) and be treated with respect,” he said, in what was seen as a tacit reference to the Dec 16, 2012 gang-rape of a woman aboard a moving bus in Delhi.
The brutal gang-rape, that led to the eventual death of the 23-year-old woman, referred to as Nirbhaya, shook the country and led to stricter anti-rape laws in the country. And the media keeps reporting of news of rape and molestation of women in public places, particularly in capital Delhi.
Referring to the many women seen in the march past and the tableaux of the Indian armed forces, Obama said he was happy to “see all the incredible women in the Indian armed forces” and referred especially to woman officer Pooja Thakur of the Indian Air Force who led the guard of honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan at his official welcoming ceremony.
This he said, is a sign of “great progress”.