Women’s Empowerment Seminar Highlight of NFIA Annual Meet

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September 16, 2011

By Geeta Goindi

A surprise package of the annual political meet organized by the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) was a seminar on empowering women which successfully capped the two-day event that included a Congressional luncheon on Capitol Hill, a White House briefing by senior Obama officials and a dinner hosted by the Indian Embassy.

September 16, 2011

By Geeta Goindi

A surprise package of the annual political meet organized by the National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) was a seminar on empowering women which successfully capped the two-day event that included a Congressional luncheon on Capitol Hill, a White House briefing by senior Obama officials and a dinner hosted by the Indian Embassy.

At the NFIA seminar on empowering women, held at the upscale restaurant Diya, in Tysons Corner.  Seen in this picture are: standing in front – young students of the Nrityaki Dance Academy; standing in the rear from left to right – Mr. Chandu Patel, chairman of NFIA, Mr. Lal Motwani, president of NFIA, Mrs. Angela Anand, chairperson and organizer of the women’s seminar, Manju Ganeriwala, Treasurer, Commonwealth of Virginia, Dr. Sunita Kanumury, President, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI), Aruna Miller, Delegate, Maryland General Assembly, and Shweta Mishra, founder of Nrityaki Dance Academy.

The women’s conference, held September 16, 2011, at the elegant Diya restaurant in Tysons Corner, VA, drew such luminaries as: Robert O’ Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia and President Obama’s key person for India and that region in the US State Department; Nisha Biswal, Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Asia Bureau; Aruna Miller, Delegate, Maryland General Assembly; Manju Ganeriwala, Treasurer, Commonwealth of Virginia; Dr. Sunita Kanumury, President, American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI); and Sukriti Likhi, Economic Counselor at the Indian Embassy.  Acknowledging “the very distinguished panel of women”, Blake said, “they are the embodiment of what we all are going to be talking about tonight”.

Students of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) participated in a fashion show displaying traditional, contemporary and modern Indian designs, at the women’s conference held at Diya restaurant, in Tysons Corner.

Mrs. Angela Anand, chairperson and organizer of the women’s seminar, appeared delighted with the turnout.  “I think we have so many empowered women here that this room must be buzzing with power”, she said.  If I look at the audience, I see scientists, writers, a biochemist, physicians, attorneys – people from different walks of life, and when I look at the panel, I see, indeed, the powerhouses”.

Also on hand, were: Mr. Lal Motwani, president of NFIA; Mr. Chandu Patel, chairman of NFIA; Dr. Parthsarathy Pillai, past president of NFIA and chair of the Congressional luncheon; and Dr. Rajen Anand, chairman of the White House briefing.

Shweta Misra, accomplished Kathak exponent, with her young students of the Nrityaki Dance Academy based in Sterling, VA.

The entertainment quotient was more than met by talented local artistes and featured: graceful and enchanting Kathak dances by young students of the Nrityaki Dance Academy, founded by accomplished Kathak exponent Shweta Misra and based in Sterling, VA.; a fashion show by students of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County showcasing traditional, contemporary and modern Indian designs; and hip hop dances by the Adaa group at UMBC.

The Adaa group at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) regaled the audience with hip hop dances at the women’s conference.

In his keynote address, Blake lauded India for “serving as a role model for women’s empowerment on the world stage”.  He noted that women in India occupy myriad positions serving as political leaders, captains of industry, social innovators, heads of village panchayats, senior government officials and state chief ministers.

The senior official pointed out that the President of India is a woman and both the current and former ambassadors of India to the US (Mrs. Nirupama Rao and Mrs. Meera Shankar, respectively) are women.  “The astounding number of women CEOs also sets a very powerful example for other countries, including many of us here in the west”, he said.

Blake had arrived from New Delhi that very morning, his sense of humor in tact.  “My daughters are in open revolt because I came to this event tonight instead of going to see them”, he joked.  “I told them it was a very important event, not only to honor NFIA, but also to honor this very important topic which is the empowerment of women”.

Paying glowing tributes to NFIA, the influential official underscored that the organization “is such an important partner for the US State Department and all of us who are working in government to expand our strategic partnership with our friends in India … One of the reasons why our ties are so strong, and the bedrock of our relations, are the strong people-to-people ties which exist and that is really due to the 3 million Indian-Americans and organizations like NFIA which do so much to organize Indian-Americans and make sure their voices are heard”, he said.

Regarding “the very wide range of cooperation that is underway between the US and India across a huge range of issues, really encompassing all of the world’s priorities today”, he mentioned food security, non-proliferation and combating climate change, while at the same time underlining that “women’s empowerment is at the heart of what we are trying to do”.  Already, India and the US have begun a women’s empowerment dialogue, spearheaded by Vital Voices, which signals the importance both governments place on this momentous issue.

“I don’t need too much persuasion about the empowerment of women”, Blake told the audience.  “I have three very powerful daughters and a very powerful wife”, he said, to loud applause.  “And I also have a boss which many of you may have heard of, (Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton”, he added, to even more applause.

Robert O’ Blake, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia and President Obama’s key person for India and that region in the US State Department, with Mr. Chandu Patel, chairman of NFIA.

The senior official pointed out, “Hillary Clinton has done so much to make gender a part of every aspect of American foreign policy.  She has said empowering women and girls is not just an issue of morality and fairness, it is a security, prosperity and peace issue”, he told an appreciative and attentive gathering.  “So, integrating women’s issues into American foreign policy is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do”, he said.

The picture is not all rosy!  Blake acknowledged that obstacles do exist insofar as it remains hard for women and girls to attend schools, to get jobs and to start businesses.  Violence against women is also a matter of concern.

Still, he was optimistic.  “India’s rise, fueled by a young, optimistic, dynamic and educated population, will be one of the great stories of our times”, he told the audience.  “But, we know that government alone cannot realize the full promise of this potential.  And that’s why we need your ideas, your energy and your commitment.  You will help write the next chapter of US-India relations.  With the unparallel team that we have now working on India at the State Department and with talented leaders in other parts of government, like my wonderful friend and colleague Nisha Biswal, I know that we together, with organizations like NFIA and committed individuals like all of you, can make a difference.  We can help empower more and more of India’s girls and women and, in the process, transform the world”!

Nisha underlined, “at USAID, women and girls are at the core of everything that we do in development”.  With regard to India, she mentioned the mission works with organizations like SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) on programs to improve literacy for girls and to help women farmers.  Nisha herself was born in a small town in Gujarat and is a true embodiment of the American dream!  At the conference, she declared, “it is personally motivating for me, an Indian-American woman, to be able to work on these issues”.

Aruna has the distinction of being the first Indian-American woman to be elected to the Maryland General Assembly, in November 2010.  “I believe women belong in the House, and the Senate”, she said, at the seminar, to loud cheers.  “I do belong in the House – the Maryland House of Delegates”, she added.

As a Maryland State Delegate, she represents some 137,000 residents in one of the most affluent, educated and politically charged regions in the nation – Montgomery County.

Aruna extolled the accomplishments of Indian-Americans who, she said, “have achieved the American dream and are among the most educated, most affluent and the most entrepreneurial of all groups in this country”.  It goes to their immense credit that while they make up less than 1 percent of the US population, Indian-Americans constitute 33 percent of engineers in Silicon Valley, 7 percent of the nation’s IT workforce and 38 percent of the nation’s physicians, Aruna noted.  “These accomplishments are not anomalies”, she said.  “In fact, they are the by-product of hard work, sacrifices and education which have come to define the Indian-American community.  We are a potent force for change, a demographic whose voices cannot be ignored”!

Among the distinguished panelists of the women’s empowerment seminar are, from left to right: Manju Ganeriwala, Treasurer, Commonwealth of Virginia; Sukriti Likhi, Economic Counselor at the Indian Embassy; and Nisha Biswal, Assistant Administrator for USAID’s Asia Bureau.

Aruna lamented the fact that despite being a model minority, Indian-Americans are noticeably absent in public service.  Women, especially, are under-represented in elected offices.  “In my view, democracy is not fully exercised until our political institutions are comprised of at least 50 percent women”, she said, to much applause.

What is necessary, she emphasized, is for women to “become the 21st century agents of change and shape the political nature of our nation” and they can do this by registering to vote and exercising their ballot, selecting a party affiliation, and running for political office.

Dr. Sunita Kanumury, who came from New Jersey to participate in the seminar, is only the second female to serve as president of AAPI in its three-decades-old history.  The organization which boasts a membership of 30,000 is currently advocating the cause of Indian physicians who are attempting to be a part of the health-care reform.  “Women have a great deal at stake as the nation prepares to overhaul the health-care system”, noted Dr Kanumury.  She bemoaned the fact that some12 million women in the US have no health-care.  Women also have less earning potential and are likely to be segregated in clinical areas, she said.

Ganeriwala shared her personal reflections with the audience.  Born in a conservative family of Rajasthan, the eldest of 6 children, she was the first woman in her family to get a college degree, thereby paving the way for her siblings to procure a higher education.  She credits her mother who stood like a rock and supported her in this endeavor!


Community Special by MYDOSTI.COM

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