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Suu Kyi eye on gender gap

Papasanipalli (Andhra), Nov. 18: Aung San Suu Kyi asked P.S. Shiv Kumar, 25 and single, if he would allow his prospective wife to work.

The young man was mum. The Nobel laureate then turned towards his 60-year-old mother Muddukka and asked if her husband consulted her in family decisions.

Muddukka said yes but added it had been happening only in the past few years. “Our conditions have improved. Earlier women were not consulted for any decision. But things are changing now.”

The interaction took place yesterday when the Myanmar pro-democracy leadertravelled to the Andhra village to understand the development of rural India and the extent of women’s participation in the process.

The hamlet in Anandapur district seemed carefully chosen by the Centre — this was where rural job scheme NREGA, the UPA’s signature welfare programme, was launched in 2006. The audience largely comprised women and members of Saptagiri, a self-help group (SHG).

“I want more women to participate in work. Economic independence is important for gender equity. In my view, everyone should be able to make their own choices in life. That is what I mean by freedom,” Suu Kyi said.

Chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy, who was present along with Union minister Jairam Ramesh, presented Papasanipalli as a model of women empowerment.

At this, Suu Kyi asked the gathering if they had the same expectations from their children. “Please tell me whether your expectations from your son vary from (those of) your daughter.” Yepuma, a middle-aged woman, replied: “No we are giving more importance to the education of girls.”

Property rights came up, too, and Ramesh, the Union rural development minister, explained inheritance laws. “In the southern states, female members have equal share over landed properties. The northern states are gradually implementing such laws.”

Suu Kyi also inspected some NREGA projects but seemed struck by allegations of fraud. “What kind of fraud is happening in this scheme,” she asked about the programme. Ramesh stepped in and admitted ghost beneficiaries and payment irregularities were the main problems.

Chief minister Reddy announced a Rs 1-crore package for the development of the village, renamed Aung San Suu Kyi Colony.