The second meeting of the “U.S.-India Women's Empowerment Dialogue” took place in Washington in early June. It provided an opportunity for both our governments to explore new ways of collaboration to further the social, political and economic empowerment of women in our countries. The dialogue also served to highlight how women are integral to all our key common issues, including security, the economy, education, health, and climate change.
During travels to India last November for the first U.S.-India Women's Empowerment Dialogue, I was particularly impressed by the cutting-edge work being done by NGOs and businesses. I spent some time with groups such as the Nanhi Kali project, an innovative girls' education public-private partnership project that targets certain underprivileged areas of the states of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan. Nanhi Kali provides additional educational support for girls through tutoring and supplying books, materials and uniforms. This partnership serves as a unique example of the potential for fruitful collaboration among the government, the private sector, and NGOs. I was impressed, too, by a USAID-supported NGO project that uses the powerful medium of street performances to work with men to address violence against women. I saw a skit performed by men from the Rajasthan community that highlighted the negative impact of child sex selection, domestic violence and child marriage.
I also saw evidence of the Indian government's commitment to women's political empowerment, and particularly to their participation in local governance -- the panchayat level. The large numbers of women on village and municipal councils has brought considerable gains to a wide variety of public services and improvements to their communities. This program of women's inclusion has aptly been called the “silent revolution” in democratic decentralization. In addition, the enhanced self-esteem and self-confidence women have experienced as a result of their participation in local politics has led them to take on challenges in local public services -- from building wells to roads -- as well as to seek funds for education. Thus, the benefits to local women leaders have translated into benefits for entire communities and villages.
India's support for the advancement of women's economic opportunity is particularly innovative. The spread of self-help groups and microcredit have had a transformative impact on millions of people in India and have also been an example to the rest of the world. One of the key outcomes of this year's dialogue was an agreement to bring together a cross-section of Indian self-help groups with counterparts in the United States to share best practices in financial inclusion, economic development, and trade.
While in Washington, the Indian delegation visited several U.S. organizations running projects in key areas of interest to them. In learning ways to address domestic violence, they visited an intake center at the D.C. Superior Court that provided an example of how the police, civil society and judicial system are working together for the benefit of survivors. The delegation also visited a multilingual early childhood education center and a nonprofit retirement community that offered a continuum of care for the elderly.
We also agreed with our Indian counterparts to develop a joint venture to train Afghan women in the area of economic opportunity and build on the work already being done in Afghanistan by our two countries. Further, we discussed the need to explore more successful ways to address the global scourge of violence, to expand public-private partnerships, and other areas of mutual interest.
The momentum gained during the second dialogue will continue to focus on women's progress in both our countries. Together we will also work in partnership to advance women's development throughout the region. There is much we can learn from each other for the betterment of our societies and the world.