While inaugurating the first ever Business Women’s Mela in Bhubaneswar on 4th May 2022, organised by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Women’s Entrepreneurship Council, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik made a significant statement that the twenty first century would be women's century. He is one of the rare public personalities of India who has looked at the twenty first century from the perspective of women and made bold to say that it would be their century. He asserted that women represent the power and contextualised it by referring to the Odisha Government’s Mission Shakti,set up for mobilising and harnessing women's power through their empowerment so that they become economically independent, earn their livelihood and get access to their entitlements. The organisation of Business Women’s Mela augurs well for the State and the country as a whole in the context of growth and expansion of our economy and the increasing emphasis accorded to augment and harness our huge economic potential which, among others,can only be realised by tapping women’s power which hitherto has not been done adequately.
It is instructive to juxtapose Naveen Patnaik's vision of the twenty first century as women’s century with his statement uttered three years back,on March 10, 2019, while addressing a massive women’s rally in Kendrapara. In that rally he made a historic announcement that in 33 per cent of the 21 Lok Sabha seats of Odisha women candidates of Biju Janata Dal would contest and accordingly he fielded seven women candidates and five of them won. It was a bold and pioneering step for political empowerment of women and set a shining example for the whole country. Along with that momentous pronouncement Naveen patnaik made a strong correlation between women’s effective participation in all domains of our public life for enhancing economic strength of India and sensitively observed that without adequate representation of women in legislatures and other spheres, India would not be able to compete with other economically and technologically advanced countries of the world.
Characterisation of Centuries
Twenty first century has been characterised differently by several illustrious personalities, acclaimed for their scholarship and deep understanding of the evolution of human civilisation from one century to another. For instance a famous psychologist James Coleman in his book, ''Abnormal Psychology” described the 17th century as the century of reason, 18th as the century of enlightenment, 19th as the century of progress and 20th as the century of anxiety. President of India K. R. Narayanan while addressing an international gathering of women in 2002 on the theme ''Twenty First Century : Whose Century'', organised by Sonia Gandhi, invoked James Coleman’s above characterisation of centuries and thoughtfully noted that humanity would not transit from century of anxiety to a century of moderation. He, however, hopefully noted that the movements launched across the world by women for unchaining them from several bonds of patriarchy and many other forms of structural domination and inequality, the twenty-first century could be women’s century.
Twenty First Century, Century of Fear
In many circles,twenty first century has been described as the century of fear because of the mounting and accelerating danger emanating from global warming and climate change, described by former Secretary of State of USA, John Kerry, as an existential threat. The World Future Council in its publication ''Surviving the Century: Facing Climate Chaos and Other Global Challenges” also indicated that danger posed by climate change would shape the twenty-first century and so accordingly the century would be characterised by taking into account the fearsome aspects associated with the massive disruptions of climate.
It is in this context of seeing twenty first century as the century of fear, its characterisation by Naveen Patnaik as the century of women provides a refreshing insight to understand the century.
Women Power in Twenty First Century
Naveen Patnaik joins the distinguished personalities such as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres who while speaking on ''Women and Power'' in New York on 27th February 2020 had said that, ''The twenty-first century must be the century of women’s equality''. That statement of Secretary-General was preceded by a series of his insightful remarks which assume significance in the context of the Business Women’s Mela organised in Bhubaneswar. He said, ''Women who do have an income are more likely than men to invest in their families and communities, strengthening economies and making them more resilient''. Proceeding further he added, ''Women also tend to take a longer view. Corporate boards that include them are more stable and profitable.'' He continued, ''The recent decision by one of the world’s biggest investment banks not to take a company public unless it has a woman board member was not made on moral grounds. It was financial good sense.”
The UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, had said on 23rd September 2011 that ''21st century was going to be the age of women and girls” and added, ''This is however a social, economic and political revolution that cannot happen without men and boys”. She proceeded to say, ''For gender equality and women's empowerment are only part of a larger journey for social justice and democracy. A journey for which our generation is better equipped than any generation before''.
Progressive Feminist Perspectives
Naveen Patnaik’s perspectives concerning twenty first century as a women’s century clearly brings out his progressive feminist dimensions which are now counted as determining factors for sustainable development. Such progressive feminist perspective remained central to his understanding of Biju Janata Dal (BJD), of which he is the President, and assert, on the occasion of its foundation day celebrations in 2021, that women of Odisha constitute the mainstay of the party. He repeated it on other occasions as well. In Odisha, since the beginning of the twenty first century, Naveen Patnaik has been engaged in large scale mobilisation of women, now numbering about 8million, through eight lakh self groups, with each group consisting of 10 women. When, therefore, Naveen Patnaik says that the twenty first century would be the century of women he is explaining the gender dimensions of the global order by acknowledging women’s determining roles at the grassroots level in Odisha, in urban and local bodies and at the State and Party(BJD) level. Therefore, he has been at the forefront in writing to all Chief Ministers and leaders of major political parties to enact legislation at the national level to provide reservation for women in 33 per cent of seats in Lok Sabha and State Assemblies. Therefore, his statement that the twenty first century would be the century for women should be understood in the context of his appeal to all political parties and Chief Ministers for substantive political empowerment of women at the national level.
Only when at the national and State levels India can have adequate representation of women in legislatures, the grand vision of making twenty first century a century for women can be better appreciated. In this context one recalls the words of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who wrote after the first general elections of 1952. He said,
''I am quite sure that our real and basic growth will only come when women have a full chance to play their part in public life. Wherever they have had this chance, they have, as a whole, done well, better if I may say so, than the average man. Our laws are man made, our society dominated by man, and so most of us naturally take a very lopsided view of the matter. We cannot be objective, because we have grown up in certain grooves of thought and action. But the future of India will probably depend ultimately more upon the women than the men.''
Nehru’s statement that ''the future of India will probably depend ultimately more upon the women than the men,'' underlined the significance women’s role in shaping the destiny of India. Naveen Patnaik’s statement that the twenty first century would be a woman’s century underlines the planetary significance of women's empowerment and gender equality which also remain the driving force for Odisha and India.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.