SWAN 8th Annual Conference, held in Yangon, Myanmar, 25-26 October 2016

SWAN-Myanmar-2016-Group-Sunil-Binjola

South Asia Women’s Network (SWAN)’s Eighth Annual Conference

Yangon, Myanmar, 25-26 October 2016

“Gender Sensitive Governance for Empowering the Women of South Asia”

Co-organisers : South Asia Women’s Network (SWAN) and Women’s Organizations Network of Myanmar (WON-Myanmar) with the support of the South Asia Foundation-India (SAF-India)

 CONCEPT NOTE

 The South Asia Women’s Network (SWAN) brings together women leaders, parliamentarians, academicians, experts, activists and media representatives from nine countries of South Asia : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

SWAN was established in March 2009 at the Conference on “Women of South Asia : Partners in Development” convened at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. This Conference was inaugurated by the renowned Nobel Laureate from Bangladesh, Professor Muhammad Yunus. SWAN coordinates its work through eight sectoral networks, also called SWANs. The designated areas of activity for these eight SWANs are : the Environment; Arts and Literature; Women in Peacemaking; Health, Nutrition and Food Sovereignty; Education; Crafts and Textiles; Finance, Livelihoods and Entrepreneurship Development; and Women in Media. 

SWAN emphasises the importance of gender empowerment as the key to sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental sustainability in South Asia. SWAN’s vision is to achieve sustainable development for South Asia through an integrated approach incorporating the centrality of women’s agency, voice, participation and leadership. SWAN believes that gender equality, with justice, respect and dignity for all women, together with democratic and inclusive good governance, are essential and inalienable factors for bringing in sustainable development.

SWAN’s strategy for achieving gender empowerment is based on strengthening partnerships through an institutional network across South Asia, working together to agree upon and advocate policy recommendations for governments, (including resistance to policies that perpetuate inequality, inequity and injustice); to develop leadership skills among the women of South Asia in order that they are empowered with the relevant education and conceptual, managerial, and technical knowledge to lead the movement for sustainable development in this region; and to focus on capacity building for change at all levels.

At SWAN’s Fifth Annual Conference in Colombo in August 2013, SWAN agreed upon and adopted its “Roadmap for Sustainable Development for the Women of South Asia”. At their Sixth Annual Conference in Thimphu in September 2014, SWAN planned the first phase of its activities in implementation of SWAN’s Roadmap, agreeing upon priorities and specific Intervention Programmes (IPs) in identified sectors and areas. 

SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference, held in Maldives on 6-7 October 2015, marked the all-important shift to the process of implementation, focused on projects for empowering the women of South Asia. There were four major areas of focus at SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference in Maldives. The decisions taken in each of these areas were implemented, worked upon and further developed during the course of 2015-16.

SWAN’s Eighth Annual Conference in Yangon, Myanmar, has identified as its theme the all-important aspect of Gender-Sensitive Governance for the Women of South Asia. Governance issues will be the focus in each of the four thematic sessions, especially in the one on Changing Mindsets for Empowering the Women of South Asia. The thematic sessions reflect the special areas of interest for SWAN. In each Session, the Conference will receive reports from the individuals/ institutions responsible for coordinating each of these four areas of activity. The Conference will receive feed-back from participating organisations in each SWAN country, and after discussions, will agree upon the next steps over the coming twelve months. The four thematic sessions are  :

Session I. CHANGING MINDSETS FOR EMPOWERING THE WOMEN OF SOUTH ASIA :

Ensuring gender equality and gender empowerment in South Asia is as much a developmental issue as it is a human rights issue. The denial of their rights has vastly excluded the women of South Asia from participating in or benefitting from the process of development. This is now a major factor hampering and holding back development, not just for women but for society as a whole. No nation can develop and prosper by leaving out women, who form half the population. The genesis of the problems faced by the women of South Asia is certainly complex and multi-facetted, with some aspects that could be specific to individual communities, ethnicities and religions. 

Yet, across discussions in SWAN’s seven Annual Conferences, the most consistent refrain has been that the crux of the problem lies in the firmly entrenched mindset towards women, a mindset that mitigates against respect, equality and empowerment for the women of South Asia. Essentially, the patriarchal system, as it has evolved, has brought in a mindset that ensures women’s subordinate role within family and society. As a result, women are exposed to violence in its worst forms, the girl-child has seriously reduced access to educational facilities, and mothers to healthcare, including maternal healthcare. Patriarchy and violence, including threats of violence, erode the very foundations of gender justice. They undermine and negate the objectives of constitutional and legal provisions favouring gender equality, and obstruct the advancement and empowerment of women in social, political and economic spheres of activity. 

The patriarchal mindset and hierarchy has ensured that most government policies (across South Asia) have been gender-blind in their formulation and implementation, failing to give due weightage to the specific needs of women to help them overcome their disadvantaged position in society. This has only further strengthened patriarchal norms, and has denied to most women any substantive benefit from the process of economic development across and within the countries of South Asia. Secondly, SWAN strongly supports an integrated approach for gender sensitive governance, incorporating and combining democratic and inclusive good governance with the centrality of women’s agency, voice, participation and leadership. This alone can bring in the positive changes in socio-economic prosperity and empowerment of women that are the essential pre-requisites for sustainable development of society as a whole.

SWAN has SWAN has repeatedly focused on this crucial and vexatious issue. In May 2014 SWAN organized, in Kathmandu, the Conference on “Democracy and Inclusive Good Governance for Gender Equality and Sustainable Development in South Asia”. The outcome of this Conference was discussed at length during SWAN’s Sixth Annual Conference in Thimphu in September 2014.

Subsequently, in April 2015, SWAN convened, in New Delhi, the most comprehensive Conference on “Gender, Community and Violence : Changing Mindsets for Empowering the Women of South Asia”. Issues relating to changing mindsets for empowering the women of South Asia were discussed in seven thematic sessions, in the following sectors, covering the full spectrum of issues confronting the women of South Asia in their shared quest for equality and empowerment :

  • Violence Against Women : impact and challenges in its elimination, including through seeking justice;
  • Governance and Its Structures; 
  • Education : new approaches for changing mindsets;
  • Women as Factors for Tolerance and Peace;
  • Media, Art and Culture : Important Tools for Changing Mindsets;
  • Women-centric patterns for socio-economic empowerment and development; 
  • Bringing men on board for empowering the women of South Asia.

In each of these thematic sessions, with paper presentations followed by active discussions, important conclusions were reached about specific measures to be taken for changing mindsets. Key conclusions were addressed to governments, including on changes in educational curricula. Other conclusions considered what men and women, working together, can do to ameliorate the excesses of violence and the depth of deprivation and discrimination faced by the women of South Asia.  

SWAN’s Eighth Annual Conference in Yangon will decide on specific policy advocacy (with governments) programmes, as well as leadership development and capacity building projects that should now be taken up to expedite gender sensitive governance as a reality for the women of South Asia. Changing mindsets through education is a particular area of priority in this regard.

Session II. BUILDING A GENDERED MEDIA FOR THE WOMEN OF SOUTH ASIA : The UNESCO SWAN Women in Media Initiative had been launched at SWAN’s Sixth Annual Conference In Thimphu (Bhutan) in September 2014. At SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference in Maldives, the content, methodology, participation and planned outcome of this project was discussed and agreed upon.

UNESCO and SWAN agree on the critical role of the media as a reflection of society and an agent of change, through media freedom with responsibility.  UNESCO and SWAN recognize the importance of gender empowerment as a key to sustainable economic growth, social development, environmental sustainability, and promotion of peace in South Asia. If sufficiently empowered, women in media across South Asia can themselves play a critical role in creating awareness about the need for gender empowerment and for building inclusive societies. Women in media can become agents for bringing in the change they want to see. UNESCO and SWAN strongly emphasise the need to deter and counter gender-based violence (GBV) and sexual harassment as cross-cutting priority issues that adversely impact every aspect of women’s work in media.

In New Delhi from May 3-5 2016, UNESCO and SWAN organized Regional Consultations with the participation of leading women in media representatives from across South Asia. The focus was on “Developing Gender Sensitive Guidelines for Women in Media in South Asia”. This has been a path-breaking effort. The Regional Consultations agreed that in order to address the vulnerability of women journalists in South Asia, media needs to be gender sensitive, gender responsive and gender transformative. In order to strengthen these roles, UNESCO and SWAN agreed to :

  1. Develop gender sensitive media guidelines and standards, targeting women journalists, media owners, editors and policy makers.
  2. Undertake a baseline survey to assess the status of women media practitioners in South Asian countries, thereby providing a basis for monitoring and evaluation, together with a roadmap for measuring annual progress and achievements .
  • Develop a methodology for advocating the adoption of the proposed guidelnes and standards.
  1. Develop a mechanism for implementing this initiative in the participating South Asian countries .

The Final Report of the Regional Consultations has the first draft of the Gender Sensitive Guidelines for Women in Media in South Asia (GSGWMSA). Modalities for the Baseline Survey have also been agreed upon.

At SWAN’s Eighth Annual Conference in Yangon, the Gender Sensitive Guidelines for Women in Media in South Asia (GSGWMSA) will be discussed and finalized, as will the methodology for advocating their adoption and implementation. Detailed guidelines on the Baseline Survey will be provided (for participating delegates and organisations) by specialized experts. Participation and planned outcome of the Regional Workshop will also be discussed and agreed upon.

Session III. SWAN’s SKILLS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP DEVELOPMENT INITIATIVE :

SWAN’s Skills and Entrepreneurship Development Initiative is among the first taken up for formulation as a specific project. The women of South Asia are the inheritors and custodians of traditional knowledge and the most ancient skills, which they continue to practice to this day. Yet they are unable to leverage this knowledge and the skills into instruments of empowerment and strength. A significant proportion of the economically active women of South Asia are fine crafts-persons, skilled as a part of customary training in the social context. Their work remains confined primarily to the unorganized sector. They combine their crafts-work with their equally traditional and rigid commitment to agricultural and household activities.

Since the returns from their traditional crafts-skills are so inadequate, women, particularly the younger generation, are losing interest in acquiring or maintaining these skills. In several instances, traditional crafts-skills are on the verge of being lost to posterity. These crafts-skills can be revived and preserved only if they become economically viable and, through this, the source of respect and empowerment for the women practicing these skills.

Across South Asia, a large proportion of young girls do not complete primary or secondary education. Even where young girls do complete primary and secondary school, there are few prospects of stable employment skills enhancement. Young girls, who are either school drop-outs or school leavers with no employable skills, become disheartened and uninterested in continuing formal education. They are therefore very vulnerable to exploitation, including gender-based violence, and the pressures of early marriage.

Based on decisions at SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference, a major project is under formulation, being coordinated by Bhutan. This is being planned as a three-year project to empower the women of South Asia through skills-training under master trainers, combined with access to finance and the SWAN brand product development. The project will cover key aspects of the value-chain, including skill enhancement, product design, marketing channels and credit (access to finance) channels. This initiative would identify prominent crafts from each country, and facilitate enterprise-development and entrepreneurship-development around these crafts.

This project is expected to bring together several essential strands of skills development and co-creation for empowering the women of South Asia : skills enhancement, access to finance, and sharing across borders through the SWAN brand product development. It will be placed before the SAARC Development Fund with the request for financial support.

At SWAN’s eighth Annual Conference in Yangon, the full details of this project would be presented by Bhutan. This will provide the valuable opportunity to all SWAN delegates to discuss and finalize the implementation of tis important initiative.

Session IV. ECOTOURISM FOR SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND GENDER EMPOWERMENT IN SOUTH ASIA :

The countries of South Asia share a unique civilisational heritage. South Asia is a region of great bio-diversity and rich geographic diversity, ranging from tropical eco-systems to those of the highest Himalayas. Tourism is naturally the major revenue generator for all countries of this region. It is also the most instinctive and successful way to bring the peoples of South Asia closer to each other. However, conventional mass tourism must become more responsible in order to be sustainable. Tourism activities should not destroy either the environment or local traditions and indigenous knowledge, nor should they exclude local communities. In all these aspects, eco-tourism is showing the way forward by being inclusive and strengthening rural communities. Ecotourism is essential for sustainable development of regions and people. Ecotourism is environmentally responsible tourism. Ecotourism inculcates respect for different cultures and sub-cultures.

It is crucial to integrate women into the process of sustainable eco-tourism development. Women play a central role in rural communities in crafts and textiles, waste management, arts and music, cuisine and hospitality, preservation of the environment and culture, and inculcating traditional values in the next generation. All these are core values for the development of eco-tourism. In making local communities beneficiaries, even stake-holders in eco-tourism projects, the aspect of gender empowerment for the women in these communities should be given the highest priority. Eco-tourism should become part and parcel of skills, livelihood and sustainable development programmes for the women of South Asia.

SWAN has been actively pursuing formulation of a project on Ecotourism with the focus on empowerment of women in rural areas. This would involve identification of ecotourism site(s) in each participating country, preparing the template for comprehensive ecotourism development with gender empowerment as its core, and planning for advocacy, leadership development among women and capacity building, based on best practices and involvement of expert individuals and organisations.

At SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference in Maldives, the objectives of the proposed project were elucidated and potential ecotourism sites in each participating country were discussed for inclusion in the project. India, as the coordinating country for this project, has now prepared the three year project for submission to the SAARC Development Fund for financing.

At SWAN’s Eighth Annual Conference in Yangon, the details of the Ecotourism Project for Gender Empowerment across South Asia would be presented and finalized, with the objective of moving into the financing and implementation stages.

July 2016,  New Delhi

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