Q: Comparing Tony Blair with World War II icon Winston Churchill is being called the latest ‘Cherie bomb’. Everyone’s been asking whether that was a well-judged thing to say.
A: I have no problem saying that was a proud wife speaking of her husband’s achievements. I was being interviewed by Vanity Fair and I thought Churchill was an example an American audience would be familiar with. That comment has of course spawned other articles.
Q: Isn’t it strange that First World countries like the UK and US where women are supposed to be more equal to men, should expect its First Ladies to have retiring roles? You have often been at the receiving end.
A: With us, the head of state is actually the Queen. Which makes the Duke of Edinburgh actually the First Lady…Also, in the UK, there’s a basic tension between the role of the spouse of the head of government and someone who is an independent person in her own right. The head of government is elected by the British people, his/her policies have a democratic legitimacy, but the spouse isn’t so there’s a tension. The US president is an elected member of the executive and also has ceremonial duties.
Q: You have spoken of cross-cultural bridges to help women in the developing world. What are your programmes for India?
A: India is no more part of a developing world, it’s a tiger economy.
This summer, I have set up a Women’s Foundation that will help women in small and medium enterprises with networking with business leaders form the developing world. We plan to have a conference by end of next year. There must be women in India who like me was the first in the family to have a university education. I know what’s that like. It’s a lonely thing.
Q: As president of the Loomba Trust, many of your initiatives are in Punjab. Punjab is one of the states with the highest number of honour killings and ‘NRI brides’. As a specialist in human rights law, is your Trust dealing in such cases as well?
A: The best people to do something about this is the society from which they come. The first thing to do is to stop calling these ‘honour’ killings. It’s murder – that’s what it is.
Q: In India, there has been an off-on demand for the Women’s Reservation Bill. In the UK what has been your experience with reservation?
A: Political reservation is needed. In India, why do you have less women in really important roles in politics than you have in business? It says something about access to power. In 1997, the Labour government under Tony had all-women shortlist. We nopw have 19 per cent women MPs in parliament. You need to have a deliberate policy of promoting women. See webcast.