Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have just given the worst, most backhanded compliment ever.
Speaking at Dhaka University in Bangladesh on Sunday in his first visit to the neighboring country since becoming prime minister, Modi commended female Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her "zero-tolerance" approach and excellent work fighting terrorism, "despite being a woman."
"We know [a] solution for everything, but not terrorism. I am happy that [the] Bangladesh prime minister, despite being a woman, has declared zero tolerance for terrorism," he said.
Feminists across the world were outraged by his comments, immediately reclaiming the offensive portion of the quote and using the hashtag #DespiteBeingAWoman to transform it into a symbol of power. The Twitterati posted pictures of powerful, inspiring women like Margaret Thatcher and Rosa Parks and, attaching the ironic hashtag, revealed that despite being women, these major historical figures have managed make a real impact.
Modi's conservative, Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is historically known for being weak on women's rights. However, the prime minister attempted to reinvent himself as female-friendly in the run-up to the general election last April, given India's appalling track record when it comes women. Sexual assault statistics alone are indicative of an inherently misogynistic society: The National Crime Records Bureau of India estimates 93 women are raped every day.
The prime minister's latest remarks will invariably damage his attempt at being seen as a feminist public figure. While it is troubling such remarks could be made by the leader of one of the largest countries in the world, which is in such desperate need of gender equality, the national backlash to his speech offers hope for a brighter future.