India’s bachelor Prime Minister Narendra Modi is doing his land no favors when it comes to gender equality. He just seems to struggle in his dealings with women — whether it was botching his praise for Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tough on terror policies, “despite being a woman,” or not inviting his own mother to his formal inauguration. In fact, Modi’s inept modus operandi when it comes to women appears to be setting the tone for the entire region lately, critics say of the usually eloquent prime minister. However, the South Asia region has produced a host of capable female heads of government: former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi of India; former Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka; former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan; and many more. While South Asia has improved the lot of its women substantially when compared to the 1950s — the average age of marriage in the region has increased to 21, a drastic reduction in maternal and neonatal deaths — there is still a long way to go. The region spends only one percent of its GDP on public health, which not only means a larger burden for mothers and caregivers, but also an exacerbation of wealth disparity across the nations that constitute South Asia.
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