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Updated: March 5, 2012 18:19 IST

The march of history

KAUSALYA SANTHANAM
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CHENNAI FASCINATES Jennifer McIntyre Photo: S.R. Raghunathan
The Hindu
CHENNAI FASCINATES Jennifer McIntyre Photo: S.R. Raghunathan

Celebrating Women's History Month, going places as a diplomat, taking an interest in south Indian culture… Jennifer McIntyre, Consul General of the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai, shares her experiences

“Women are making history every day. A lot of these women are in India,” says Jennifer McIntyre, Consul General of the U.S. Consulate General, Chennai. Just back from office at her beautiful residence on the banks of the Adyar river, she is eager to talk about Women's History Month which is celebrated annually in March. The Consulate General Chennai is holding a number of events to highlight women's achievements. “Each year the State Department picks up a theme. This year it is “Women's Education”. I'm glad South India is so focussed on education,” she says. At the India-U.S. Women's Empowerment Dialogue held in February this year, it was agreed that issues relating to women's empowerment should be integrated into all aspects of the Indo-U.S. Strategic Dialogue, with issues such as science and education. “From February 29 to March 2, we had a meet at Coimbatore,” she explains. Numerous events were held, among which was a video conference with astronaut Sunita Williams. “Nearly 3000 school children participated and this webstream was shared with embassies and consulates worldwide. Sunita spoke for an hour and a half,” she says enthusiastically.

“Every year for our “Experience America” programme we look outside the main cities. We chose Coimbatore given its growth, dynamics, universities and trade. It was a fantastic partnership.”

A women's empowerment panel was held at the Avinashilingam University where Fulbright-Nehru scholar Helen Bond from the U.S. and lawyer Vanitha Mohan spoke with 2000 students.

“We will also be screening a documentary on the work of Shobha Gasti from Belgaum who heads an NGO which works for the ending of the Devadasi system. We look for “Women of Courage”, the U.S. Department of State asks embassies worldwide to identify them,” she says.

Why Women's Day?

Many wonder why a special day, an International Women's Day, should be held to celebrate women…

“Every day is Women's Day like every day is Mother's Day,” she says.” But I like Women's History Month because it focusses on the future of education and the contribution of women and is a positive image.”

In India there is potential across the board, she feels. There is a greater role for women in a growing economy. “I feel as comfortable here as in the U.S. The women are outspoken and hospitable,” says the Consul General, her pleasant smile lighting up her face.

But are there not vast differences between the two countries, as many here are not empowered?

“In the U.S. too there is a stratum that is not empowered,” she points out. But what interests the Consul General greatly here are the reservation and the political systems. “I met women panchayat leaders today,” she says. “One of them told us what she had done for sanitation and improvements to school education. What I see in India is extremely positive. I see in India emphasis on bringing women in and in having their voices heard”.

And how strong is the glass ceiling in the U.S.?

“Three of the last four Secretaries of State have been women — Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and now Hillary Clinton. Also, one of the findings is that women in business are going to be large drivers in the U.S. economy — they will generate 5.5 million jobs by 2018.”

McIntyre specialised in Russian studies for her Bachelor of Arts in the University of Virginia. She obtained a Masters of National Security at the National War College in 2006. She joined the U.S. Department of State in 1992 and gained wide experience in Asian affairs while working in Washington in the State Department's Operation Center. “I have done management for embassies,” says the Consul General who was awarded the State Department's Leamon R.Hunt Award for Management Excellence in 2005. Her prior foreign assignments include postings in Azerbaijan, Turkey, Cambodia, Eritrea (Africa) and Pakistan. “It has been a fantastic career,” she enthuses. “And yes, it is interesting to compare experiences of women in different countries. It is incredible how they triumph over difficult conditions”.

As for the inevitable question: her response to Chennai to which she moved seven months ago? She finds it “dynamic, hospitable and culturally vibrant”. “I'm learning about Carnatic music," smiles the Consul General who has attended more than 20 concerts.

Reading is her passion. “India has produced a number of important authors. I have a long reading list. And I like archaeology,” she says, quickly listing the places and landmarks she has been to pronouncing each name perfectly — Hampi, Meenakshi temple in Madurai, Padmanabha temple in Thiruvananthapuram, Mysore Palace and, of course, Mahabalipuram. No surprise as her father was a teacher of history and archaeology.

What made her get into the U.S. Foreign Service? “I passed the test,” she laughs.

AT A GLANCE

The U.S. Consulate General celebrates Women's History Month in March “to recognise the many achievements of women in our society and to highlight areas for further progress.” The U.S. Consulate General Chennai with other partner organisations will host five roundtable discussions each moderated by a woman officer from the Consulate to discuss the achievements and challenges of women in various walks of life. The roundtable panellists will include lawyers, journalists and other leaders from Chennai and across the country:

The schedule:

March13: Woman and Health at the Sri Ramachandra University

March 15: Women and Entrepreneurship at the Loyola College

March 20: Women and Media (Asian College of Journalism)

March 21: Women's Empowerment (U.S. Consulate General Chennai)

March 22: Woman and Politics (U.S. Consulate General Chennai)

The Consulate Chennai will release a video later in the month recognising the extraordinary achievements of U.S. and Indian women employees at the Consulate.

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