9th Swan Annual Conference , Kathmandu, Nepal from 20-21 November, 2017

SWAN 9th Annual Conference, Kathmandu, Nepal Sunil Binjola
SWAN 9th Annual Conference, Kathmandu, Nepal


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

Kathmandu, Nepal, 20-21 November, 2017

Theme : “Changing Mindsets for Empowering the Women of South Asia”

 Co-organisers : South Asia Women’s Network (SWAN), Federation of Business and Professional Women Nepal (FBPWN), T-HELP (Trans-Himalayan Environment Livelihood Program Nepal), Shtrii Shakti, SEARCH-Nepal, with the support of the South Asia Foundation (SAF-India), New Delhi

 Venue : Hotel Himalaya, Kupandole Height, Lalitpur

 SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, had as its theme the critical issue of Changing Mindsets for Empowering the Women of South Asia. Changing Mindsets has been the leitmotif of SWAN activities for the last nine years.

  1. Inaugural Session (20th November 1000 hours) : The Inaugural Session was chaired by Ambassador Veena Sikri, Founding Trustee and Convener, SWAN. The introductions to the speakers were made by Ms Manisha Ghimire, President, Initiatives for Media Women, Kathmandu.

In her Welcome Address, Ms Ambica Shrestha, President, Federation of Business and Professional Women Nepal (FBPWN), Kathmandu, warmly welcomed the dignitaries and delegates who have gathered from across South Asia for this important event. She thanked the members of the Nepal Organising Committee for this Conference, representing T-HELP (Trans-Himalayan Environment Livelihood Program Nepal), Shtrii Shakti, SEARCH-Nepal, and her own organization, the Federation of Business and Professional Women Nepal (FBPWN) for their tremendous coordination in bringing everything together successfully in a comparatively short span of time. Ms Ambica Shrestha recalled her own journey with SWAN, emphasizing the vital strength and positive benefits for society as a whole in the projects being planned and implemented by SWAN.

Ambassador Veena Sikri, Founding Trustee and Convener, SWAN, explained why the theme of SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference had been finalized. 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, in discussions and exchange of experiences during SWAN’s eight Annual Conferences as well as the series of specialized Conferences that have been convened, 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. The need for changing mindsets is the most significant common thread that SWAN encounters in the feedback from all its activities. That is why the focus chosen for SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference is on changing mindsets for empowering the women of South Asia, through elucidating the how, the why and the when of this hitherto intractable issue.

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 process of changing mindsets is complex and often intractable. The first step is to create awareness in the minds of the individual, the community and society that the mindset needs changing. Awareness programmes and educational programmes are needed, since there are many who may not wish to change their mindset (attitudes and beliefs), either because they are not aware that these need to change, or they are in denial (which means they know, but are fearful to make the change). It is also important to support those people who know they have to change and are willing to work towards it. Bringing men on board is a vital and essential aspect of SWAN’s strategy and efforts towards changing mindsets, emphasising at all times the benefits to society as a whole : men and women, young and old.

Changing mindsets for empowering the women of South Asia is a key objective in each of the projects that SWAN has taken up for implementation : both in the UNESCO SWAN project on Buiding a Gendered Media in South Asia, and in the Rural Tourism project. SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference seeks the special focus on changing mindsets in order to strengthen our efforts to achieve this objective. In each session, the Conference will discuss solution-oriented activities, including specific policy advocacy strategies, as well as leadership development and capacity building projects.

The SWAN method is to work through collectively formulated projects, where the project objectives and methodology are agreed upon collectively, but ground-work and implementation is by participating institutions in each country. This process facilitates the exchange of experiences and best practices in each area of activity, which contributes greatly towards strengthening cooperation and understanding among participating countries. This shared search for solutions to common problems across the region plays a vital role in creating shared identities, thereby strengthening the Brand South Asia.  

Ambassador Veena Sikri thanked all SWAN members for their commitment and dedication towards bringing in gender empowerment and gender equality in their respective nations and across South Asia. She congratulated SWAN members for their individual achievements, especially those who had become Members of Parliament in their respective countries : Kesang Chuki Dorjee in Bhutan; Shwe Shwe Sein Latt and Susanne Hla Hla Soe in Myanmar. Most recently, Najiba Ayubi has been honoured as member of the Government of Afghanistan’s High Media Council.

UNESCO Representative to Nepal, Mr Christian Manhart, spoke on behalf of UNESCO with special reference to the UNESCO SWAN project on “Women for Change : Building a Gendered Media in South Asia”. He expressed concern that “the media sector, which has a very influential role for attaining the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), might itself lag behind by failing to ensure gender equality”. He emphasized that “the SWAN UNESCO initiative, is intended to improve this situation by developing a peaceful and gender-balanced media environment in South Asia”.

The Keynote Address was delivered by Ms Chandni Joshi, Chair, Women Think Tank, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Government of Nepal, Kathmandu.  Ms Joshi appreciated the “pertinent and right theme” selected for SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference, emphasising that the need for changing mindsets encapsulates the “crucial challenge to the inequalities women face”. Ms Chandni Joshi regretted and felt disheartened that even 22 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted, “the world has not improved much for women and girls…for some it has got a lot worse…(T)he same barriers and constraints which we recognized 22 years ago are still prevalent and in force globally”. She said that unfortunately, “the change has not been deep enough, nor is it comprehensive”, emphasizing that “with the patriarchal mindset, not only of policy planners and politicians but of common men and women who are suffering from these patterns : with these deep rooted discriminatory norms and stereotypes, violence remains pervasive leading to gender based discrimination that continues to be deeply entrenched in the minds of individuals, institutions and society at large”.

Ms Chandni Joshi explained in some detail how the patriarchal mindset is principally responsible for the “life cycle of discrimination and violence girls and women face from womb to tomb”. The alarmingly widespread prevalence of female feticide and female infanticide is the “important manifestation of son preference” across South Asia. The mindset that the girl-child “doesn’t belong to the home she is born in” results in “the exclusion and sense of disowning” beginning “at an early stage which leads to child abuse and maltreatment,… malnutrition, illiteracy leading to poverty and deprivation. She is given away in child marriage or even trafficked”. As adolescents, young women are “susceptible to domestic violence, sexual harassment at workplace…and heinous sexual crimes”, leading to their exclusion from equal and substantial  participation in the socio-economic mainstream.

The patriarchal mindset leads to inequalities and injustices for women. In society, these are manifest through “unequal power relations, embedded discrimination against women leading to her invisibility…(and) paralyzed capability”, and resulting in “her contribution not (being) accounted for, and unpaid care work which keeps her busy”. Ms Chandni Joshi emphasized that “the perpetuated subordination which leads to lack of entitlements and access to resources, results in feminized poverty and exclusion, which eventually boils down to denial of her rights; deprivation and vulnerability. These are fueled by the patriarchal mindset, existing discriminatory laws, alienated socialization, the prevailing hypocritical norms, gender neutral policies and the paralyzing impunity…(I)t is not only she, who suffers but the family, society and the nation too”.   

Ms Chandni Joshi shared her own experiences of working in South Asia with UN Women in partnership with other UN organisations, focusing on the innovative steps of mitigation that were brought in to change the mindset and to reassert women’s rights. Regional campaigns on violence against women were launched. Action researches were conducted on discriminatory laws, which later led to adoption of laws on domestic violence and marital rape. Programmes wiere conducted with men and boys, defining the new role of masculinity. The status of women in different beliefs and faiths were studied, which resulted in the formation of the Interfaith leaders’ coalition.  

Ms Chandni Joshi highlighted the value of results achieved by promoting, nurturing and working through regional networks, involving all stakeholders, parents, teachers at all levels, siblings and peer groups, employers, policy makers, politicians, general public and the media. SWAN, she said, has the “potential, capacity and network, and therefore, should take this golden opportunity to create an avalanche of positive awareness in media and harness behavioral and attitudinal changes in society at large to fight the huge denial that persists in South Asia”. She wished SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference all the best in their deliberations and outcomes.  

The Inaugural Address was delivered by HE Mr Amjad Hussain B Sial, Secretary General of SAARC. In his address, the Secretary General appreciated “the excellent work being done by the South Asia Women’s Network (SWAN) for empowering…women to ensure their rightful place in… society and sustainable socio-economic growth in our region”. The Secretary General wished “the Network great success in its future endeavours”, assuring SWAN. “of our (SAARC’s) full support”. The Secretary General described SAARC’s strong commitment to gender empowerment, as reflected through several key decisions taken and documents adopted. Successive SAARC Summits “have underscored the need to bring women fully into the mainstream of development, paying focused attention to their economic empowerment and skill development in order to promote gender equality”. SAARC’s Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children, is mandated, inter alia, to empower the women of the region through policy interventions both at the national and regional levels. In January 2002, SAARC adopted the Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution. A Regional Task Force has been created to review the implementation of various provisions of the Convention. The SAARC Social Charter, adopted in Islamabad in January 2004, has two strong Articles on ‘Promotion of the Status of Women’ (Article VI) and on ‘Promotion of the Rights and Well-being of the Child” (Article VII). 

The Secretary General pointed out that “four of the twenty-two SAARC Development Goals are devoted to: (i) reduce social and institutional vulnerabilities of the poor, women and children; (ii) ensure effective participation of the poor and women in anti-poverty policies and programmes; (iii) improve maternal health; and (iv) facilitate access to primary community schools for all boys and girls”. Since 2005, the initiative known as the SAARC Gender Info Base (SGIB) “is the repository of qualitative and quantitative data and information on gender related issues and women empowerment. This regional effort aims at creating a comprehensive single pool of data on gender issues in different formats, including multimedia, making it a One-Stop Gender Information Shop” for SAARC.  The Secretary General highlighted “another important initiative,…the platform of the SAARC-Gender Policy Advocacy Group (SAARC-GPAG), which works toward enhancing political and administrative will on Gender Equality; ensuring implementation of the commitments made by the Member States to empower women and promote gender equality; and identifying common issues and providing policy advice”.

Ms Rokia Rahman, President, Bangladesh Federation of Women Entrepreneurs (BFWE), delivered the Vote of Thanks. She appreciated the warm sentiments expressed for the continued success of SWAN. She particularly highlighted the thought-provoking Keynote Address by Ms Chandni Joshi, with valuable suggestions and guidelines for SWAN’s future endeavours. Ms Rokia Rahman thanked His Excellency Secretary General of SAARC for his very encouraging, informative and supportive Inaugural Address, encouraging SWAN to continue their efforts and wishing them well.

  1. The First Plenary Session had as its theme SWAN’s Rural Tourism based Social Enterprise Project for Sustainable Development and Gender Empowerment in South Asia (20th November 1130 hours). This session was chaired by Ms Hinna Khalid (Maldives). The keynote presentation for this session was made by Dr Malavika Chauhan (India), Executive Director, Himmotthan Society, Dehradun, the Lead Implementing and Executing Agency for this project. Dr Malavika Chauhan is the Chief Proponent of the Funding Proposal for this project that is under submission to the SAARC Development Fund (SDF). Dr Malavika Chauhan explained how the project has been structured. There are individual projects in each country, with a strong focus on cross-cutting issues, which would facilitate exchange of experiences and best practices. Cross-cutting issues include adaptation and mitigation strategies; sanitation, hygiene and waste-management; textiles and crafts development; organic farming, zero-budget farming and allied issues in agriculture; home-stays, cuisine and related aspects; financial literacy; building marketing networks to encourage intra-South Asian touristic exchanges.    

The Rural Tourism project now covers all the eight SAARC countries. This project has been placed before the SDF Board on two separate occasions, respectively in February 2017 and July 2017. In February 2017, the SDF Board asked for more detailed information about the project, which was provided. After the July 2017 SDF Board meeting, SWAN was informed that all projects to be funded by SDF under the Social Window now require a minimum of 50% co-funding from the project proponents. This has created difficulties among the project participants, the implementing agencies in each SAARC country. Various options were discussed to meet this new requirement of 50% co-funding by project proponents.

Tourism is a natural avenue for revenue generation across South Asia. It is also the most instinctive and successful way to bring the peoples of South Asia closer to each other. Ecotourism is environmentally responsible tourism. It inculcates respect for different cultures and sub-cultures, and is essential for sustainable development of regions and people. SWAN emphasises the vital role of ecotourism for integrating women into the process of sustainable development. Women play a central role in rural communities in executing agricultural processes (from sowing to harvesting), 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. By making local communities stake-holders and the principal beneficiaries in eco-tourism projects, the aspect of gender empowerment for the women in these communities receives the highest priority. Eco-tourism becomes the vehicle for skills, livelihood and sustainable development for the women of South Asia.

Several delegates spoke with the focus on individual cross-cutting issues. Dr Vandana Shiva (India) spoke on capacity building for facing the challenge of environmental degradation, including seed banks, protection of soil quality, and water conservation. Ms Suraiya Chowdhury (Bangladesh) spoke on  making paper from diverse inexpensive materials, be it sea-weed or other discarded matter, as valuable inputs for livelihood development and empowerment of rural women. Ms Seema Bhatt (India) spoke on strengthening the links between conservation of biodiversity and livelihoods of local communities through ecotourism. She emphasised the importance of ensuring high standards of excellence in the rural tourism project under consideration, even working towards ecotourism certification for individual components of the project.

Each of the implementing agencies from SWAN countries made their respective country presentations, highlighting the unique features of the individual rural tourism projects they have planned, and in some cases (notably Sri Lanka) even started implementing. There was unanimity on the value of working together in planning this project, and on collectively evolving solutions for vital cross-cutting issues, while implementation is through individual efforts of participating institutions in each country.

Usman Khan (Afghanistan) described the four areas, including Kabul, that have been selected for developing ecotourism-oriented capacity building of women. Rokia Rahman (Bangladesh) described the plans for developing rural tourism in seven Khasia villages in Sylhet district; and Farida Akhter (Bangladesh) spoke about four villages in Tangail district where the ecotourism efforts will be intensified. Kuenley Dorji (Bhutan) described the two villages each in two southern districts, Dagana and Tsirang, that have been selected for participation in SWAN’s rural tourism project. Dr Malavika Chauhan (India) described the three sites in the State of Uttarakhand :  Roopkund in district Chamoli, Guptakashi in district Rudraprayag, and Nagtibba in district Tehri Garhwal that have been identified for the rural tourism project. Fathimath Afiya, (Maldives) spoke about the two island atolls, respectively in the north and south of Maldives, where the ecotourism project will be centred. Deepak Dorje Tamang, Ambica Shrestha, and Yankila Sherpa (Nepal) described their coordinated efforts covering six districts of Nepal : Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Sindupalchowk, Kavrepalanchowk, Makwanpur and Kathmandu valley, principally those areas that were worst-affected by the 2015 earthquake, that will focus on rehabilitation of women through rural-tourism activities. Pakistan has identified two sites, one in Cholistan (Punjab) and the other in Nathia Gali (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) for development of ecotourism. Rohini Nanayakkara (Sri Lanka) spoke at length about the site in Hikkaduwa (Galle district) where women-centric ecotourism development activities are already in full swing. She requested the earliest possible coordination on fund-raising to ensure a positive decision from SAARC Development Fund for the project.

There were active discussions on fund-raising and on future timelines for the project, especially in the light of the most recent decision by the SDF Board requiring 50% co-funding by each project proponent.

III. The UNESCO SWAN project on “Women for Change : Building a Gendered Media in South Asia” was among the highlights of SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference in Kathmandu. This project received the most detailed and focused attention through three separate sessions for discussion and exchange of views These were :

  • The Inception Workshop for Phase II of the project, convened on the evening of 19th November 2017;
  • The Second Plenary Session of SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference on the afternoon of 20th November 2017 was dedicated to a detailed discussion on Phase II of the project, with the special focus on the work already initiated under Phase II, namely the Secondary Research for the Baseline Survey;
  • Breakaway Session on the morning of 21st November 2017 for the Women in Media Group, for detailed presentations by the Media Research Coordinators on the Primary Research for the Baseline Survey on the Status of Women in Media in South Asia

(i) The Inception Workshop for Phase II of the UNESCO SWAN project on Building a Gendered Media in South Asia was co-chaired by Veena Sikri, Founding Trustee & Convener, SWAN, and Al-Amin Yusuph, Adviser for Communication & Information, UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office. Veena Sikri began the meeting with a synopsis of the achievements in Phase I of the project, and the road ahead in Phase II of the project.

Veena Sikri emphasised the unique UNESCO SWAN partnership in conceptualising and implementing this project. SWAN has played a key role in identifying and bringing togther individuals and organisations from the participating countries, and in coordinating each step in the implementation of this project. SWAN has used its resources to facilitate implementation at every stage of this project. The project, as originally conceived, has greatly evolved through active ideas, inputs and discussions among the participants, at SWAN’s Sixth and Seventh Annual Conferences (Thimphu and Maldives) and the UNESCO SWAN Regional Consultations held in New Delhi in May 2016.

The Gender Sensitive Guidelines for Women in Media in South Asia (GSGWMSA) were first developed at the May 2016 Regional Consultations, with UNESCO’s Gender Sensitive Indicators for Media as the principal reference tool. The GSGWMSA are categorized under two broad heads. The first is Gender Equality for Women in Media, which covers (a) Gender balance at all decision-making levels; (b) Gender equality in work and working conditions; (c) Gender equality in unions, journalists’ associations, and media self-regulatory bodies; (d) Gender balance in education and training; (e) Ethical codes for gender sensitive editorial policies in media organizations; (f) Guidelines for owners and decision makers in media; (g) Addressing Gender Based Violence (GBV) and harassment at work. The second broad head under the GSGWMSA is Portrayal of Women in Media, where the following are covered (a) News and current affairs; (b) Entertainment; (c) Online; (d) Advertising; and (e) Depiction of GBV and sexual harassment through the media. The GSGWMSA provide detailed guidelines under each of these twelve sub-heads. Taken together, the GSGWMSA provide a uniquely comprehensive framework for ensuring gender equality and gender empowerment for women, both in and through the media.

At these Regional Consultations (May 2016), all SWAN participants recognised that it is vital to seek the validation of the GSGWMSA through Informal discussions and broad consultations with key stakeholders in each particpating country, including with National Commissions for Women, women journalists (seniors and freshers, in urban metros and in rural areas) and UNESCO offices. Accordingly, between May and October 2016, National Consultations were convened in seven of the nine SWAN nations : in Afghanistan (Kabul and four provinces, August 2016), Bangladesh (Dhaka, October 2016), India (New Delhi, August 2016), Maldives (Male, September 2016), Nepal (Kathmandu, September 2016), Pakistan (Karachi, October 2016), and Sri Lanka (Colombo, October 2016). The vigorous discussions and exchange of views through these national consultations have been encapsulated in the individual Reports of these National Consultations prepared for UNESCO and SWAN.

SWAN’s Yangon Conference endorsed and adopted the GSGWMSA after a substantive exchange of views, together with the broad structure of Phase II and Phase III of the project. The successful completion of Phase I of the UNESCO SWAN project is a matter of great satisfaction. SWAN Convener Veena Sikri emphasied the importance of recalling the inclusive and broad-based procedure followed in completing Phase I.

At the Inception Workshop for Phase II, Veena Sikri described the preparations for Phase II that have continued apace throughout 2017, based on the methodology outlined by the Media Research Coordinator Professor Gita Bamezai (IIMC, New Delhi) at SWAN’s Yangon Conference, wth particular focus on the Baseline Survey for the Status of Women in Media in South Asia. The Regional Coordinating Team for this project, headed by Co-leads from UNESCO (Al-Amin Yusuph, New Delhi) and SWAN (Veena Sikri), includes Media Research Coordinators, Professor Gita Bamezai and Dr Ananya Roy (both from IIMC), together with Professor Jaishri Jethwaney and Professor Seema Goyal (both from ISID). IIMC is coordinating all aspects relating to the media, while ISID is coordinating advertising and portrayal issues, and the Gender Sensitivity Barometer. IIMC and ISID have designed, prepared and circulated the knowledge tools and technical inputs for the Baseline Survey, including for primary and secondary research. IIMC and ISID will oversee, mentor, and coordinate the conduct of the Baseline Survey. ISID is conceptualising and preparing the prototype of the Gender Sensitivity Barometer (GSB), so that other participating countries can prepare similar GSBs for their respective countries.

The Baseline Survey (primary and secondary research), while regionally coordinated, is being undertaken individually by each country.  Each country team will prepare its own Report (or Country Chapter) with country recommendations. Regional Consultations will be held to discuss the country reports, and finalise the Regional Report on the Status of Women in Media in South Asia. This Regional Report will also include specialised chapters on issues of cross-cutting priority, such as gender based violence, role of media in changing mindsets, gender sensitive curriculum for media education and training institutes, and advocacy strategies (incuding policy reciommendations) with governments, editors owners, and other stakeholders. The Regional Coordinating Team (UNESCO, SWAN, IIMC and ISID) will constitute the core editorial team for the Regional Report.

In order to strenghthen governance structures, it has been agreed that each participating institution (country) would establish a National Project Advisory Board (NPAB) for the UNESCO SWAN project. The key purpose of the NPAB is to include a group of eminent individuals from the diverse media segments being covered by the UNESCO SWAN project (print, electronic, digital, social, advertising, entertainment), with the objective of mentoring the project, and giving it a strong element of national credibility. The numbers in the NPAB need not be more than five or six. In addition to the NPAB, there will also be a Regional Project Advisory Board, which will include representatives from the participating countries.

Al-Amin Yusuph (UNESCO New Delhi) recognised the considerable progress and achievements made in Phase I of the UNESCO SWAN project. At this Inception Workshop for Phase II of the project, he emphasised that together with plans for implementation of the Baseline Survey, we should also consider issues relating to structure, organisation and funding of the project. It is vital to have a clear long-term vision, since this would facilitate identification of risks and challenges that may lie along the path of implementation. The project has spelt out three phases covering five to seven years, but there can be positive value in looking at a much longer framework of 12 to 15 years. The project aims to set standards for gender sensitive media, using several knowledge tools created by UNESCO. However, the project should also pay attention and give importance to several other issues, including monitoring, evaluation, visibility of results achieved, membership, capacity building among media stakeholders, and even capacity development of SWAN as an organisation. Does the project need more participants? UNESCO and SWAN and participating individuals should also discuss and consider the extent of participation by governments in this initiative. Roles and responsibilities of participants should be clearly spelt out. He also emphasized the need to agree on the next steps. In particular, Al-Amin Yusuph emphasized that funding issues are crucial : these need clear and specific elucidation. 

 Comments were received from each of the participating individulas/ institutions. Ms Najiba Ayubi (Afghanistan) welcomed the UNESCO SWAN project as timely and most necessary. The situation regarding women in media is really dire in Afghanistan. Najiba welcomed the project as an essential process that has been set in motion. The Annual Conferences provided the invaluable opportumity for reviewing progress  and moving ahead. The numbers of participants are clearly constrained by financing issues.

Professor Gitiara Nasreen (Bangladesh) appreciated the coordinated and collective manner in which the UNESCO SWAN project is being implemented. This augured well for a succesful outcome. In Bangladesh, research in this vital sector is hitherto being done in a piecemeal and inconsistent manner, at the individual level. The UNESCO SWAN approach has tremendous consistency and internal logic. Governments and policy-makers will accept the results and take them seriously as long as the process is scientific ad logical, with sound quantitaive and qualitative parameters. 

Ms Kesang Dema (Bhutan) emphasised the vtal necessity in Bhutan for conducting the Baseline Survey on the Status of Women in Media, as is being planned under the UNESCO SWAN project. This project is of the greatest importance for Bhutan. As long as adequate financing is available, the Bhutan team will ensure that the Baseline Survey  is well done.

Ms Aminath Layal Manik (Maldives) pointed to the great need for this project in Maldives, where digiftal and electronic media have overtaken by far the traditional print media. There are an increasingly large number of women working in the media, so the Baseline Survey will be of vital importace for protecting their interests and strenghthening their role in the media.

Ms Thin Thin Aung (Myanmar) felt privileged to fomally participate in the Inception Workshop for Phase II. The Baseleine Survey will certainly help the large number of women in Myanmar that are increasingly taking up careers in the media.

Ms Manisha Ghimire (Nepal) said that ever since the National Consultatoons were convened in Kathmandu in September 2016, there has been great anticipation regarding the start of Phase II with the Baseline Survey. She welcomed this Inception Workshop, and assured every effort for a successful outcome.

Ms Mariana Baabar (Pakistan) emphasised the importnace of fund-raising tp ensure the success of the project. This is a vital project, very important for Pakistan, but as with all media-related work, the funds crunch is invariably a critical obstacle.

Ms Nishani Dissanayake (Sri Lanka) said that the uniqueness of the project lay in all SWAN participants working closely together on developing methodology, yet implementing the project individually through mutually agreed processes (the Baseline Survey). This is a unique way of helping each other for mutual benefit.

Professor Gita Bamezai (India) provided a detailed overview of Phase II, focussed on the scientific yet comprehensive approach with which the Baseline Survey has been planned, covering all aspects of women in media, and how women are perceived through the media. The uniqueness of the project lay in the regional approach, where all countries are working together as a team, yet are implementing the Baseline Survey independently in each country. The combined approach incorporating both quantitaive and qualitative analysis is completely new and has never been attempted brfore. This is uncharted territory. Professor Bamezai did not see any major risk facing this project. She agreed that the factors listed by her demand strong commitment from all the participants, the commitment to work together in a coordinated way to achieve results. IIMC and ISID are willing to conduct the proposed capacity building workshop with all participants, to ensure compatibility of standards in data collection and analysis.  Professor Bamezai supported and agreed with all participants who had described the vital necessity of this project in their respective countries. All governments will be happy to receive the outcome of the Baseline Survey, including the analysis of cross-cutiing issues. The problems facing women in media, and the coverage on women through the media are aspects of vital concern to governments and the public. Governments seek tangible data, scientifically collected and analysed, as inputs to policy-making. There are challenges, but all-in-all, this is a good project, that is worth doing well. It is vital to ensure a suitable revenue model for the project, so that there is adequate financing. This is a critical challenge.

Professor Jaishri Jethwaney (India) pointed out that the inclusion of the advertising sector and the focus on portrayal issues are among the unique features of the UNESCO SWAN project. Societal mindsets about women are heavily influenced by media portrayal of women, especially through advertising. That is why this research–based project is vital for understanding how mindsets are being infuenced and what needs to be changed or restructured. This research is essential for identifying the problem. Based on research outcomes, the search for solutions will begin.   

Seema Goyal (ISID) focussed on the Gender Sensitivity Barometer being designed by ISID as another unique feature of this project. The GSB prototype prepared by ISID will be used to guide all teams on preparing similar GSBs for their countries. The GSB is a repository of informative material that is used as a guided tool kit on gender sensitive portrayal of women in media in a non-linear interactive format encompassing text, audio, video and animation, for reference and guidance of news, promotional and entertainment media practitioners. The long-term objective is to position the GSB as an Advocacy Tool for policy intervention both at government and media sector levels.

The Inception Workshop agreed on the following broad working schedule for Phase II of the project, comprising baseline studies in the 9 participating countries culminating in a Report on the Status of Women in Media in South Asia :

  • Development of baseline survey methodology by IIMC (in collaboration with ISID for the advertising sector). This process has already started;
  • Regional Training and Consultation Workshop in mid-2018 : To review the progress of Phase II; and to build capacity of participating media organizations and individuals on survey techniques, data collation and analysis. This Workshop, to be conducted by IIMC and ISID, will be for those who will conduct the Baseline Survey in their respective countries;
  • Baseline Surveys to be implemented in target countries and each country to prepare its chapter for the Status Report;
  • Regional Workshop (2019): To discuss and analyse country chapters prepared by participants, and outcomes of the Baseline Survey for South Asia as a whole, including specialized chapters on cross-cutting issues. The 2019 Workshop will also agree on activities and timelines for Phase III (to be reflected in the Status Report);
  • Publication and dissemination of Report on the Status of Women in Media in South Asia.

At the conclusion of the Inception Workshop, Veena Sikri welcomed the broad-based support for Phase II of the UNESCO SWAN project, focused on the Baseline Survey. Al-Amin Yusuph welcomed the strong individual components of the Baseline Survey that has been designed by IIMC and ISID, and agreed to by all.

(ii) The Second Plenary Session of SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference, held on the afternoon of 20th November 2017, was dedicated to a full discussion of the Secondary Research being undertaken as a part of Phase II of the UNESCO SWAN project. At the outset, Veena Sikri, who chaired the Session, gave a brief summary of the Inception Workshop, held the previous evening. The Plenary endorsed the outcomes of the Inception Workshop.

Veena Sikri  explained that the work on Phase II has already started. In October 2017, IIMC and ISID prepared and circulated detailed Guidelines for Secondary Research, highlighting the objectives and providing the desk research format, including questionnaires, the desk research flowchart and presentation format. The Second Plenary Session will discuss the queries and responses received from individuals and participating organisations on the Secondary Research Guidelines.

Al-Amin Yusuph conveyed the message from Mr Shigeru Aoyagi, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka, emphasising UNESCO’s full support for the UNESCO SWAN project. The UNESCO SWAN partnership is now in its fourth year. This project on building a gendered media in South Asia is well-known at UNESCO headquarters in Paris. Mr Aoyagi has discussed it at the highest levels, and found good support for the continuation of the project. Recognising that at present, UNESCO’s IPDC Secreatriat has supported just four countries among the participants in this project, Al-Amin Yusuph assured that UNESCO will do its best to widen the base of financial support.  Al-Amin Yusuph also emphasised the collaborative support this project is receiving from regional UNESCO offices, including UNESCO Afghanistan, UNESCO Bangladesh, UNESCO Nepal and UNESCO Pakistan.

Professor Gita Bamezai (IIMC, India), Professor Jaishri jethwaney  (ISID, India), Professor Seema Goyal (ISID, India) and Dr Ananya Roy (IIMC, India) explained in detail the processes that had been outlined in the Guideleines for Secondary Research circulated in October 2017. In the last one year since SWAN’s Eighth Annnual Conference in Yangon, IIMC and ISID have gone to considerable length to develop the project. The structure has been formalised and consolidated. The critical shortcoming has been inadequate financial resources for the project. All else has been done! The Baseline Survey is the most essential first step in the project. This will be followed by mid-line and end-line surveys. The Baseline Survey is designed to provide a normative and quantitative assessment of the status of women in media in each pf the participating countries, and in South Asia as a whole. The Baseline Survey, covering primary and secondary research, will focus on vital issues like gender-based violence and educational curriculum in media institutions. All sectors of the media industry operate on the business model, where profits and cash-flows are the all-determing factor. Issues of gender sensitivity and the need for gender empowerment are rarely, if ever, factored in. The advertising sector moves minds and markets, but issues arising from insensitive and stereotypical portrayal of women are rarely considered. The uniqueness of the proposed UNESCO SWAN Baseline Survey is that while it is being coordinated and mentored by the Media Research Coordinators, the secondary and primary research, including data collection, collation and analysis is the responsibility of individual participating organisatuons and experts.  Dr Ananya Roy (IIMC, India) elaborated upon the October 2017 Secondary Research Guidelines, explaining how the data collected under four heads : Media Landscape; Manpower; Policy and Regulation; and Media Curriculum, will be valuable inputs for primary research, including determination of sample sizes. These Guidelines are aimed at ensuring relevance, rigour and uniformity of investigation and data among all participants.

Each of the participants commented on the individuual efforts they have initiated on secondary research in response to the Guidelines circulated by the Media Research Coordinators, IIMC and ISID. Each of the nine SWAN countries made excellent power-point presentations on the Secondary Research so far undertaken by them.

Najiba Ayubi (Afghanistan) welcomed the initiation of secondary research, since this information about women in media in Afghanistan is just not available. There is not a single good web-site or data-source on this. There is no gender policy being followed by media houses. There are constitutional provisions on gender-equlaity, but no enforcement mechanism. Media houses run by women carry positive media content about women, The response in Afghanistan to the initiation of work on the Baseline Survey has been very positive, with some media houses readily agreeing to increase the number of women working with them, and to pay greater attention to their very soecific concerns. The media in Afghanistan was brought to a virtual halt during the Mujahedeen Governemnt (1990-95). Subsequently the Taliban Government (1996-2001) banned TV and brought in Radio Sharia. Post-Taliban, after 2001, the media landscape in Afghnaistan has experienced incredible growth. It is estimared that by 2014 there were 74 TV stations, and 215 radio stations across the country. Around 50% of the TV stations are located in Kabul, 34% in Mazar (North), 18% in Herat (west); and the remaining 14% in the south and east of the country. Most radio stations operate largely from Kabul. Since 2014, close to 129 print publications and 23 radio stations have been deactivated. There are around 220 Advertising Services Companies licensed by the AISA (Afghan Investment Support Agency). Of these, just 14 are leading companies, with an estimated 220 employees, of which on the average just 10% are female. The Afghan Government does not have any specific provisions in law on portrayal of women in media, nor any gender inclusive policy, even though the Afghan Constitution guarantees equal rights and duties, including the right to education and the right to work. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission were established to ensure these rights. In the absence of specific laws, media and advertising companies adapt their policies to suit the local context, which is dominated by traditional customs, practices and beliefs. The Afghanistan Journalists’ Federation is active, with 20 unions, associations and media support organisations. However, the percentage of women working in the media is low, ranging from 7 to 30 %, with just 3% of the top management level positions being held by women. There are media education institutions in the private sector, and in governemnt universities, but the curricula does not include any aspect of gender equality and gender sensitive reporting.

Professor Gitiara Nasreen (Bangladesh) pointed out that while quantitatively there has been an increase in the number of women working in media in Bangladesh, qualitatively their role and position remains as unsatisfactory as ever. There is a glass ceiling, and there is sexual harassment, particularly in the electroninc media. Women are assigned stereotypical roles in the print and electronic media. Bangladesh’s National Policy on Women has particular mention of women in media, but translating this into policy is another aspect. Some media houses do have their own poicies on women in media, like one media house responded that they refuse to carry advertisements on fairness cream for women, but such examples are few and far between. Universities (public and private) and media training institutions do have courses on gender and media. Such courses are popular even in Women’s Studies Departments. However, the course content needs more detailed analysis. On average there are 40 per cent female students among those enrolled in higher education institutions. However, it is distressing that among those women pursuing courses in journalism, very few take up a career in journalism. There are associations of journalists, but hardly any data on the women representatives in such associations. There is little doubt that the media in Bangladesh is in serious need of a gender-sensitive media policy. In Bangladesh, there are 1240 daily newsppers and periodicals, 32 private televison channels on air, 7 private FM radio stations, and “countless on-line portals”. The National Women Development Policy (2011) does have Section 40.1 on “removal of discrimination against women’s participation in the media”, and Section 40.4 on ”integrating a gender perspective in media policy”, but few media-specific guidelines have been brought in. The average participation of women in the work-force (all sectors) is just 16.8%, with participation at top management levels at just 5.6%.  However, for the first time in Bangladesh, a women journalist has been elected as General Secretary of the National Press Club.  

Ms Kesang Dema (Bhutan) provided details about the seconday research so far conducted by her group. The media sector in Bhutan is almost entirely centered in Thimphu. There is  one government newspaper (daily), and one government owned TV and Radio station. There are eight private newspapers, three in the national language, and three private entertainment radio stations. There are a total of 216 employed in these different components of the media sector, of which 104 are female and 112 are male. However, women dominate at the lower levels as marketing officers and reporters. At the management levels, the ratio  of female to male employees is 1: 5, while at the level of editors, this ratio is 1: 3. There is no separate law explicitly on protection of women journalists, even though the Constitution of Bhutan ensures rights and protection of women, as do several other laws. There is the Bhutan Media Foundation (BMF) and the Journalists’ Association of Bhutan. The BMF has Guidelines on Women and Children Reporting, but these are not legally binding. Broader Media Advertisement Guidelines are in the draft stage. The two universities in Bhutan do offer Media Courses, but there are no modules on Gender. There has been no separate research on Women and Media in Bhutan. Neither is there any common platform for women journalists to air their grievances, to come together and to discuss their challenges.    

Ms Hinna Khalid and Ms Aminath Layal Manik (Maldives) presented a brief word-picture (with the power-point presentation) on the media-scene in Maldives, based on the first steps in their secondary research. Private broadcasting was allowed in Maldives from March 2007 onwards. There are now 26 broadcasters and 122 re-broadcasters, including cable-operating companies and transmitting television channels There is a huge surge of online media in Maldives, which attracts much more interest than print media. However, a strong inclusive policy is needed, including on sexual harassment. Operational definitions are important for every aspect of media activity. The Broadcasting Commission Act and the Maldives Media Council do state that the rights of women and children should be protected, that news reporting should be gender sensitive, but implementing mechanisms have not been spelt out. The number of women participants in the media industry is going up at most levels. However, on the whole, women do suffer disproportionately high unemployment levels, with a large number considered economically inactive.  The advertising sector is comparatively large and active, but there is no specific policy on portrayal of women through advertising. Inappropriate advertisements can be banned, but there is no provision for fine or legal action.

Ms Thin Thin Aung (Myanmar) pointed out that the media landscape in Myanmar has altered dramatically since 2012, when the newly elected Government abolished pre-publication censorship. Since April 2013, Government of Myanmar has started granting licenses to private daily newspapers, amd has allowed international news agencies, which were technically banned under the military regime, to conduct reporting in Myanmar. Exiled media groups, like Mizzima, Irrawaddy and DVB (Democratic Vooice of Burma) have been allowed to return and establish news offices within Myanmar. Myanmar’s Information Ministry figures show that so far licenses have been issued for 35 private and state-run dailies, (22 are in publication); for 32 news agencies (23 are in operation); for 437 journals (260 are being published). In April 2017, new domestic free-to-air (FTA) digital TV programme service licenses were issued to 5 ‘channel providers’ under the state-owned MRTV (Myanmar Radio and TV). The Myanmar Government controls all domestic broadcast media, even though there are nine FM stations that are joint state-private ventures. DVB ( and Radio Australia) use shortwave to broadcast in Myanmar; and DVB produces daily TV news programmes that are transmitted by satellite to audiences in Myanmar. There is no official censorship, but the free press does face challenges in Myanmar. Non-media laws have been usd to arrest journalists. Myanmar Government figures show that there are 2000 accredited journalists across the country, and 60% of them are women. However, the vast majority of women are at low and mid-level positions, with very few taking critical newsroom decisions. The vast majority of women end their careers after marriage or childbirth. The recently formed Myanmar Women Journalists’ Society proposes to advocate for the rights of female journalists. There are no gender courses or modules at the Media and Journalism Institutes or even at universities. 

Ms Manisha Ghimire (Nepal) gave a power point presentation on the secondary research conducted in Nepal. In the advertising sector, there are 325 ad agencies (members of AAN, Advertising Association of Nepal), almost all registered in Kathmandu, with just 17 in women’s names. The work-force ratio of male to female is almost 50/50 in the ad sector, but there is no gender sensitive policy or code of conduct in AAN. Among journalists, however, the gender ratio is much more skewed. Only 25% of all journalists are women, and of these, only 2.4% are editors-in-chief, while 4.3% are executive editors or managing editors. In radio, 11% women are editors. In the entertainment sector, there are even fewer gender friendly policies and guidelines, and women are fighting for their dignity and recognition. The Government of Nepal policies are increasingly aware and taking on board the need to incorporate inclusiveness and gender sensitivity. They are doing this through the National Mass Communication Policy, through the Code of Conduct for Nepali Journalists. The Press Council of Nepal is also preparing a gender friendly media directive. Media education is available in 5 universities, but a 2014 assessment of university curricula has pointed out that most of the curricula are not compatible with UNESCO journalism curriculum standards from the gender perspective.

Ms Mariana Baabar (Pakistan) focused on the role that media should play in changing the traditional stereotypical mindsets about women in South Asia. This is our ultimate objective. We should bring in new out-of-the-box ideas to achieve this vital objective. The role of the social media should be carefully studied together with methodologies to identify and weed out fake news, cyber bullying and cyber crimes against women. Portrayal of women issues are absolutely critical : both men and women need to be educated about the importance of gender sensitive reporting. Films and entertainment media are vital sectors through which the correct portrayal of women can and should be done. Young directors (men and women) should be imbued with the importance of their role in this regard. Bollywood films have a tremendous impact on young minds, and if they convey the right message on gender empowerment, gender equality, and gender sensitivity, we can be seriously hopeful and positive about the impact on social values and mores. SWAN’s pan-South Asian efforts and activities hold great promise for positive progress and development on gender issues in each individual country. SWAN should consider the pan-South Asian steps that can yield positive results. One such idea is to have a Committee to Protect Women Journalists, in individual countries, and working together.

Ms Nishani Dissanayake (Sri Lanka) pointed out that Sri Lanka has a very dynamic media landscape. There are a large number of media training institutes, run in universities, under the aegis of individual ministries, and as private institutions. A career in media is today increasingly popular with young women. In 2006, five media alliances of Sri Lanka came together to promote the Charter for Gender Equality for Media and Journalism in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has a redressal mechanism through the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka to look into complaints filed with it. Women’s organisations in Sri Lanka have been proactively writing on, initiating debate and covering issues from the gender lens online, as well as on TV, radio and in print media. 

Professor Gita Bamezai (IIMC, India), Professor Jaishri jethwaney  (ISID, India), Dr Seema Goyal (ISID, India) and Dr Ananya Roy (IIMC, India) made detailed presentations on the outcomes of the Secondary Research conducted by them, respectively for the media (by IIMC) and for the advertising sector and creating the Gender Sensitivity Barometer (ISID). There are large gaps in the information available on gender and media across the India media landscape, which will be filled throgh the process of secondary and primary research. There are 16,136 newspapers across India, in English, Hindi and all the regional languages. The top ten newspaers (by circulation) have 5 in Hindi, 2 in English and I each in Malayalam, Telegu and Tamil.  There are 600 TV channels across India, with 116 news channels (11 in English, 22 in Hindi and 83 in the regional languages); there are 1048 radio channels (including 455 FM channels); and 237 registered online web-sites. There are 16 professional associations / bodies representing journalists, including the Indian Women’s Press Corps. There are several Governemnt laws and regulations for safety of working women journalists, including redressal mechanisms. These apply equally to the news and entertainment media sectors. There are 193 UGC (University Grants Commission) approved media training institutions across India (public and private sector). As many as 148 of these are regional, while 39 are in the tier 1 cities, including 20 in Delhi itself.

(iii) Breakaway Session on the morning of 21st November 2017 for the Women in Media Group, for detailed presentations by the Media Research Coordinators on the Primary Research for the Baseline Survey on the Status of Women in Media in South Asia. The Session was chaired by Professor Gita Bamezai (India): The detailed research proposal prepared by IIMC and ISID was circulated to all present. This document includes the research objectives; the research design, including sampling techniques, data collection methods, and analysis strategies; desired outcomes from the primary research; timelines for the Baseline Research Study activities spanning two years (2017-19); deliverables and responsibilities of each participating country; and guidelines relating to preparing the Country Report on the outcomes of the primary and secondary research. The Country Chapters will form part of the larger Report on the Status of Women in Media in South Asia.

Professor Jaishri Jethwaney (ISID, India) explained  the Baseline Survey objectives for the advertising sector. Inappropriate portrayal of women in advertisements and promotional media has stereotyped and objectified women as men would like to see them : beautiful partners, submissive mothers looking after their children, and efficient housekeepers with little or no role in the public domain. Do advertisements reflect reality or create reality by influencing mindsets of young and impressionable viewers. The Baseline Survey will (a) examine the portrayal of women in advertising, both in offline (traditional mass media) and online (digital media); (b) Examine the state of women working in the ad industry : job opportunities, roles and working conditions; (c) measure gender sensitivity of advertising agencies and ancillary organisations, with the view to assessing gaps in gender sensitive guidelines and policies; (d) map public perceptions on the role of advertising in creating and reinforcing socio-cultural stereotypes, leading to possible adverse impact on women’s role and their position in society; (e) assess gender focus and gender sensitivity in the existing curricula in media schools and training institutions. The Baseline Survey for the advertising sector will have several components, including the advertising consumer survey, survey of advertising content (content analysis), and survey of advertising agencies. Professor Jaishri Jethwaney explained that two-way random sampling will be adopted for the survey. The principal ad industry survey instrument is the questionnaire, which will cover all pertinent issues about the status of women in the advertising sector.

Dr Seema Goyal (ISID, India) gave a presentation on the Gender Sensitivity Barometer (GSB), the interactive advocacy and multi-media tool-kit that will be a unique feature of this project. This GSB will be comprehensive for the South Asian region, which will include independent tool-kits from the participating countries. The GSB, an interactive web-enabled mechanism, is a comprehensive advocacy tool to access all research material/ studies, laws and guidelines relating to issues of portrayal and state of working women in media. Research findings from all countries will be compiled and linked to one web-enabled portal. This will provide all information at one place for easy and quick access and retrieval. Essentially, the GSB is a psychometric tool to sensitise and empower individuals, specifically media content creators, decision-makers and policy-makers.

The presentations by the Media Research Coordinators on all aspects of primary research was followed by an interactive session, where queries raised by participants covered five key areas : (a) operational definition of research variables, and geographical representations or categorizations (urban and rural tiers, regional and community groups); (b) sampling procedures; (c) Financial requirements to ensure long-term sustainability of the project; (d) project time-lines; (e) data sources and stakeholders, including involvement of copyright and government functionaries to facilitate primary and secondary data collection.  

IV : Plenary Session on Women’s Health and Nutrition in South Asia (21st November 1000 hours). Chairperson : Ms Lalitha Kumaramangalam (india) : Chairperson initiated the discussions with the emphasis on the vital role that women’s health and nutrition has in the overall development and progress of society. She highlighted the critical negative impact of gender based violence (GBV) on women’s health (mental and physical), as much as on her strength and ability to effectively participate in socio-economic activities.

Ms Veena Sikri (India) highlighted that women’s health and nutrition in South Asia was identified as one of SWAN’s eight core issues at the first Annual Conference in March 2009. SWAN’s Roadmap for Sustainable Development also reflected the vital role of this sector. However, this is the first time that an Annual Conference has dedicated a full Plenary Session, focused on this theme. The 2009 Declaration (SWAN’s First Annual Conference) called for detailed study of the key factors adversely impacting women’s health and nutrition, with a special focus on marginalized communities. The identified issues included inadequate budgetary allocations for women’s heath and nutrition issues, especially inadequate incorporation (through policies) of the issues identified in the Alma Ata Charter (WHO,1978), in the ICPD (International Conference on Population and Development, UNFPA, Cairo, 1994), the Beijing Declaration (Fourth World Conference on Women. 1995), and the health-related issues in the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals 2000). Despite steady economic growth and rising GDP, key health-related elements of the HDI (Human Development Index) show little improvement. Elements that adversely impact women’s health and nutrition need to be clearly identified, incluidng processed foods (denutrification of food), indiscriminate use fo pesticides and fertilisers, genetically modified (GM) crops and foods, food safety standards, and specific women’s health related aspects : violence against women, poor mental health, poor reproductive and maternal health issues, anaemia and overall malnutrition, chronic obstructive lung diseases due to smoke inhalation (cooking using inappropriate fuels) and so on. The importance of conserving traditional knowledge, health practices and resources was emphasised, including prevention of bio-piracy, especially valuable traditional herbal remedies, and nutritive local plants.

SWAN participants agreed that they should focus on documenting and exchanging relevant information, and should consider advocacy strategies for gender sensitive health policies.

India and other countries of South Asia have a population that is overwhelmingly young. Yet the expected demographic dividend can turn into a demographic nightmare unless the countries of this region can reverse and eliminate the incidence of malnutrition among the women and children of South Asia.  The GHI (Global Hunger Index, published by the Washington based IFPRI) 2017 data places India at 100 out of 119 countries. It also indicates that 38% of South Asia’s children (0-59 months, ie less than five years old) are stunted. South Asia has the world’s highest rate of stunting among children. Stunting hampers the development of entire societies because of its lasting damage in terms of poor lifelong growth, poor cognition and educational performance, lower productivity, reduced earning capabilities, higher risk of disease, threat to the next generation for girls in their reproductive years, and so on. This is indeed a vital area of work that SWAN should take on with all seriousness.

Dr Sujatha Samarakoon (Sri Lanka) made a detailed presentation of the Final Report of the project completed by SWAN Sri Lanka on “Empowering Plantation Workers Towards Better Nutrition & Sexual and Reproductive Life (2016-17)”. Although Sri Lanka has impressive maternal and infant mortality rates, the prevalence of anaemia is 22.3% among women in the reproductive age, and low birth weight (LBW) for infants is reported to be 13.3% in the last survey carried out in 2013. The main cause of LBW is maternal undernutrition. The prevalence of LBW is highest in the estate (plantation) sector, where it is 2.4 times higher than in the urban sector. Nuwara Eliya which has the highest ratio of plantation population has reported a LBW of 20%. Women who enter pregnancy with a low BMI put infants at higher risk of intra uterine growth restriction leading to LBW. Sexual and reproductive health among this population (on the estates) is also challenging. Adolescent pregnancies, child marriages, teenage pregnancy, child abuse, gender based violence are serious problems in the estates. The project was conducted on two estates in Nuwara Eliya, Lower Radella and Glassow. After consultation with community leaders, three Field Supervisors (FS) and 60 Peer Educators (PE) were selected by interview. The 60 PE comprised 15 adolescent girls and 15 adolescent boys, together with 15 adult women and 15 adult men. Two workshops were held to train the FS and the PE on the objectives of the project, including importance of and methodologies for ensuring adolescent nutrition and maternal nutrition; crèche activities; preventive measures for diarrheal diseases, heart diseases, and TB, among other NCDs; food safety issues (pesticides, fertilisers, processed foods, junk food); risky sexual behavior, including sexually transmitted diseases; respect for women especially prevention of gender based violence; communication skills for the messages on healthy living. Three teams, with one FS and 20 PEs started interacting with those living on the estates, including plantation workers, their families, non-estate workers and others. Peer calendars and peer diaries were maintained. The mid-term evaluator has confirmed the strongly positive outcome of the implemented activities, as visible through home gardening (organic and herbal planting); compost fertilizer preparation; poultry farming; attention to environmental issues (adaptation and mitigation strategies); home-cleanliness; sports activities for good health; linking up with and utilization of health services; awareness about the devastating effects of GBV and STD. The project planners used Sri Lanka’s National Nutrition Policy as the basic document for their efforts. The concept of the adolescent mentoring and teaching the young has been uniquely responsible for the success of their efforts, and the positive outcomes of the project.   

Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson (India) and all SWAN colleagues were highly appreciative of the methodology and successful outcome of the project conducted so painstakingly over two years by the Dr Sujatha Samarakoon and other members of SWAN Sri Lanka, with financial resources raised collectively within Sri Lanka. Ms Mano Alles (Sri Lanka), who has been strongly supportive of this project, described their coordinated efforts at keeping the project going. Veena Sikri (India) highlighted the valuable lessons this research can provide for other SWAN countries. The methodology used (Field Supervisors and Peer Educators who are boys and girls) should be retained while scaling up to include all SWAN countries. Ambica Shrestha (Nepal) emphasized the importance of peer educators, especially bringing in adolescent boys and girls to teach and counsel the young. Lalitha Kumaramangalam pointed out that the police force (policemen and policewomen) need to be sensitized on these issues as well. 

Dr Mira Shiva (India) lauded the strongly positive outcome of the Sri Lanka project. She particularly emphasized the need to strongly bring issues relating to gender based violence (GBV) into all projects concerning women’s health and nutrition in South Asia. The inextricable link between the mental and physical consequences of GBV and women’s health has not been adequately researched or taken on board. This is essential to the process of changing mindsets about women. In the curriculum of medical colleges, gender studies are not included, GBV and its impact are not considered worth studying. Nutrition is a vital determinant of health, and when 36% of women and children have BMI  (Body Mass Index) below 18, ie they are suffering from chronic hunger, the seriousness of studying nutrition issues in the context of women’s health in South Asia becomes glaringly obvious. Critical issues like anaemia, a major factor in maternal (during childbirth) deaths caused by excessive bleeding, are directly linked to malnutrition. Eating inappropriate foods, like polished rice, processed wheat flour (maida) and junk food have devastatingly negative consequences on health. Very often, policies adopted in other sectors, particularly agriculture (such as GM crops, use of glycol-phosphate products as pesticides) have major negative impact on women’s health. Traditional knowledge must be taken on board and researched seriously, instead of being discarded as irrelevant. Gender sensitive health policies are necessary and vital.

Dr Aruna Uprety (Nepal) described her work on women’s health and nutrition in Nepal, focussing on the need to study the relevance of culture and tradition in the context of modern medical and social practices. In Nepal the tradition of chaupadi pratha  that banishes women and girls from their homes each month during menstruation, forcing them to live segregated in outhouses, is still widely practiced, even though the Supreme Court of Nepal banned this practice in 2004. The implementation of this ban is erratic and inadequate. This is particularly detrimental for health since nutritional foods like milk and green vegetables are banned during these days.  Malnutrition is a serious public health challenge in South Asia, and Nepal is no exception. Poor nutrition adversely affects the lives of women and children, especially young girls in Nepal. An already bad situation has been made worse by the 2015 earthquake making it even more difficult for women and children to access the health care they need. According to most national level studies in Nepal, malnutrition level of children under five has stayed constant at around 50%, with a high proportion of malnourished girls later suffering from low body weight and anaemia. In Nepal, only 48% of households enjoy food security, and 36% of all children born are stunted. What is worse, persuaded by misleading advertisements, many parents, even in rural areas, believe that pre-packaged foods carry a lot of health benefits for their children, quite unaware that such food items are low in nutrition and high in salt and sugar. These are the principal problems facing Nepal, each of them very serious and threatening to disrupt and up-turn the process of socio-economic development in the country. Cultivation of traditional cereals (buckwheat, millet, ragi) has declined enormously with the focus now on highly polished (and so lacking in nutrition) white rice.

Ms Fathimath Afiya  (Maldives) described how in Maldives, the most serious health problems relate to drug abuse. Her organisation, Society for Women Against Drugs (SWAD), runs community based programmes for overcoming the menace of drug abuse, and rehabilitating the victims. The drug abuse in Maldives is not the result of poverty, and that is why tackling it becomes even more difficult.  

Ms Vandana Shiva (India) emphasised that issues being discussed in this session, on women’s health and nutrition in South Asia, lie at the heart of what SWAN stands for. These are the core issues, for without tackling and overcoming the deficiencies here, there can be no empowerment for the women of South Asia. The commonality of these issues across borders, across the region of South Asia, further reinforces the need to tackle these issues collectively through sharing of best practices. SWAN should prepare a policy paper on “Sustainable Agriculture, Health and Nutrition for the Women of South Asia”,  highlighting the problems being faced on this front and how to overcome them. Once the paper is ready, Navdanya will be happy to host a SWAN meeting in Dehradun to discuss these critical issues.

Mr Deepak Dorje Tamang (Nepal) wholeheartedly endorsed this suggestion, saying SWAN must follow-up this meeting with every effort to institutionalise the ideas that have been exchanged.

Ms Lalitha Kumaramangalam (India) emphasised that exchange of best practices is the vital first step. Beyond this, you need to ensure sustainability of these best practices once they have been scaled up. Skilling is essential to ensure sustainability.

Ms Yankila Sherpa (Nepal) strongly endorsed the need to bring in sustainable agriculture.  Chemical pesticides and fertilisers are destroying our heath. This SWAN session has been our most important exchange of views. The proposed SWAN paper should include traditional knowledge on health practices and agricultural practices, emerging best practices, and link these to policy issues for advocacy.  Most women in rural areas are ill-informed about the negative impact on health of fast food and other harmful substances.

In conclusion, the consensus outcome of the discussions was that (a) the sector of Women’s Health and Nutrition in South Asia be taken up by SWAN on high priority. The poor levels of women’s health, including nutrition, sexual and reproductoe health and the issue of gender-based violence (GBV) strongly mitigate against achieving the goals of gender equality and gender empowerment for the women of South Asia; (b) Research based policy paper should be prepared incorporating the relevance of traditional knowledge, best practices across South Asia, and taking on board the results already achieved through the SWAN Sri Lanka project conducted by Dr Sujatha Samarakoon; (c) Nodal points (individuals and / or institutions) should be identified in each SWAN country to facilitate the exchange of ideas, information and outcomes of research already undertaken. SWAN should plan a Workshop on this theme as soon as convenient. Dr Vandana Shiva at Navdanya and Ms Sarita Kumari at Ghanerao have offered their respective venues for hosting this Workshop. 

V : Fifth Plenary Session (Valedictory) on 21st November at 1400 hours on Looking Ahead to Strengthen SWAN’s Structure, Effectiveness and Functioning. The Valedictory Session was chaired by Veena Sikri (India), Founding Trustee and Convener, SWAN.

In the first part of the Valedictory Session, the meeting received a detailed Report from Professor Gita Bamezai (India), on the Outcome of Discussions and the Decisions taken in the Breakaway Session of the Women in Media Group that was held in the morning of 21st November. Professor Bamezai’s Report focused on (a) complete consensus among the members of SWAN’s Women in Media Group on the visualization of the project, and the aspirations for its outcomes. This is a uniquely comprehensive project for the region, covering nine countries. All nine countries agreed to work together, coordinated by IIMC (India) and ISID (India). Each will conduct the research independently, and share the results together with individual country analysis. IIMC and ISID will be responsible for research relating to India. The Regional Coordinating Team, led by UNESCO and SWAN, together with IIMC and ISID, will coordinate regional analysis and preparing the Report on Status of Women in Media in South Asia. There will be a Regional Project Advisory Board. Each country will have a National Project Advisory Board; (b) Discussions have led to consensus on the form and structure of the organization required within each country to participate in and conduct the research. The duration of the project is going to cover a fairly long period, for all the three phases. Phase I was completed in 2016. In Phase II, the process of Secondary Research has already begun. Phases II and III will run from 2017 to 2022. There is clear recognition that financing issues need to be solved carefully and quickly. Some countries (four) have received funding from UNESCO’s IPDC Secretariat, while others have not. Financing issues need to be taken up with some urgency. (c) IIMC and ISID have agreed to conduct a special capacity building workshop (mid-2018) to familiarize all project participants with details of the design and use of knowledge and technical tools required for the project. With this capacity building Workshop, all participants will be equipped to start the process of primary data collection, collation and analysis. The Workshop will also discuss the ongoing process of secondary research. Once the individual country secondary research reports have been received, IIMC and ISID are responsible for the regional analysis of the secondary research.


Professor Gita Bamezai’s Report was endorsed by the Plenary Valedictory Session.   

The Valedictory Session then took up discussion on Strengthening SWAN’s Structure, Effectiveness and Functioning.  Chairperson Veena Sikri introduced the subject as Founding Trustee and Convener of SWAN. 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. Initially, SWAN was located within Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. Subsequently, SWAN functioned as a programme of the South Asia Foundation (SAF-India), New Delhi, a registered Trust. Since June 2017, SWAN, now registered as an Article 64 Trust under the Indian Trusts Act of 1882, is functioning independently.

SWAN has substantial achievements to its credit. It has convened nine Annual Conferences : in New Delhi (2009), Chandigarh (2010), Dhaka (2011), Kathmandu (2012), Colombo (2013), Thimphu (2014), Maldives (2015), Yangon (2016), and Kathmandu (2017). At its Fifth Annual Conference in Colombo in 2013, SWAN finalized and adopted its own “Roadmap for Sustainable Development for the Women of South Asia”. In addition to the nine Annual Conferences, SWAN has convened several specialized conferences and activities, related to SWAN’s sector specific networks. These include the South Asian Women’s Theatre Festival (LEELA), in March 2010 in three cities across India; the Special Meeting on “Women in Media in South Asia” in Goa in November 2010; the Conference on “Sustainable Development in South Asia : Women Driving Change”, in November 2012 in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh (India); SWAN’s Strategy Planning Workshop in June 2013, in Maldives; the SWAN Conference on “Democracy and Inclusive Good Governance for Gender Equality and Sustainable Development in South Asia”, in May 2014, in Kathmandu; the SWAN Special Workshop on “Ecotourism for Sustainable Development and Gender Empowerment in South Asia”, in August 2014 in Thimphu; SWAN’s Special Conference on “Gender, Community and Violence : Changing Mindsets for Empowering the Women of South Asia”, in April 2015 at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi. In addition, Regional Consultations were convened in New Delhi in May 2016 under the aegis of the UNESCO SWAN project on “Women for Change : Building a Gendered Media in South Asia”.    

Based on this impressive body of work, as SWAN prepares for its landmark Tenth Annual Conference in 2019, it is vital to consider the ways in which SWAN can strengthen its structure, effectiveness and functioning. The objective is to ensure that SWAN is able to successfully build upon its achievements of the last nine years.

The Keynote Presentation on this subject was made by Deepak Dorje Tamang (Nepal). He has proposed a schematic design for SWAN activities, as given below :

It is vital for SWAN to retain its focus on effective implementation of the Roadmap adopted in 2013 at SWAN’s Fifth Annual Conference in Colombo. This is Step 1. SWAN has been following up on this through its focus on individual projects, especially on Women in Media, and on livelihoods development through the rural tourism project, among others now being taken up. Under Step 2, through discussions at SWAN’s subsequent Annual Conferences, the focus has been on Policy and Programme Formulation for the identifed sectoral projects. This has led to Step 3, where SWAN is in the implementation process with two IPs or Implementation/ Intervention Programmes, one on Women In Media, and the second on Rural Tourism.

Deepak Dorje Tamang then went on to discuss the all-important Step 4, Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) of SWAN’s work through appropriate Management Information Systems (MIS). To ensure appropraite M&E, the effective structure and functioning of SWAN in each participating country is vital, together with strong working relationships with SWAN New Delhi and other SWAN chapters. This is the essence of the SWAN network, learning from each other to evolve shared solutions to the common problems facing the women of South Asia. Each SWAN chapter should develop the structure it considers most relevant and appropriate, in keeping with the rules and regulations prevalent in that country. In this way, the SWAN network comprising nine countries will retain flexibility and at the same time facilitate coalescing and collaboration for identified projects. A structured SWAN chapter in each country will particularly facilitate fund-raisng, at the national, regional and multilateral levels; and is critical for policy advocacy with governments (Step 5).

Deepak Dorje Tamang suggested that in order to start the process, the SWAN representatives from each country identify their focal person or leader, a designation that can also be held by rotation. Each country chapter can agree on the structure most appropriate for their activities, in keeping with local regulations, and can identify the key issues/ activities that they feel are the most relevant for them. They should also agree upon fund-raising methodologies for sustainability of their structure and activities. They may like to start with an informal structure linking together interested NGOs and institutions, which will then move on to become a registered organization. Veena Sikri added that the need for a quasi-formal or formal SWAN structure in each country is increasingly relevant as we move ahead towards the implementation of agreed projects.  SWAN projects are collectively formulated but groundwork and implementation is by participating institutions in each country. Creating a SWAN structure can help  greatly in implementation, whether through the PPP (public private partnership) model, in collaboration with two or more SWAN-linked NGOs/ Institutions, or independently.

All speakers welcomed the format and proposals placed before them by Deepak Dorje Tamang (Nepal). There was unanimous agreement that each SWAN country grouping would consider these carefully and arrive at a final decision well in time before SWAN’s Tenth Annual Conference. Any queries or suggestions in this regard should be addressed to Deepak Dorje Tamang and to SWAN Convener Veena Sikri.

Finally, keeping in mind the overall theme of SWAN’s Ninth Annual Conference (Changing Mindsets for Empowering the Women of South Asia); the discussions at this Conference, and those held at previous SWAN meetings where this subject was in focus; and recognizing the centrality of this issue for gender equality and empowerment; it was agreed that a small SWAN Working Group be formed to decide on (a) specific policy advocacy (with governments) programmes to expedite gender sensitive governance as a reality for the women of South Asia. This should include review of laws to ensure that they are gender sensitive, review of gender budgeting processes and procedures, introduction of gender audit, and inclusion of women’s unpaid work (agriculture, domestic and others) in GDP calculations; (b) leadership development and capacity building projects, especially at grass-roots levels, for empowerment through livelihoods and skills development with appropriate financial returns; (c) special focus on changing mindsets in the context of eliminating violence and threats of violence against women; (d) changing mindsets through education is a particular area of priority in this regard. The Conference recommended a review of text-books and curriculum (at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary) both for gender-sensitive content, and for engendering respect for women; and (e) bringing men on board (at all ages) for changing mindsets, which is absolutely vital and necessary.

SWAN seeks partnership with all to ensure gender empowerment and gender equality for the women of South Asia. SWAN endorses the value and crucial importance of the nine countries of South Asia working together to confront and overcome their shared problem of gender exclusion and gender discrimination. Sharing best practices and experiences is vital in forging the most effective way forward.

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

Kathmandu, Nepal, 20-21 November 2017

“Changing Mindsets for Empowering the Women of South Asia”



  1. Ms Najiba Ayubi,
    Director General,
    Development and Humanitarian Services for Afghanistan (DHSA),
    Kabul, Afghanistan
  2. Mr Usman Khan,
    Development and Humanitarian Services for Afghanistan (DHSA),
    Kabul, Afghansitan


  1. Ms Rokia Rahman,
    Bangladesh Federation of Women Entrepreneurs (BFWE),
    Dhaka, Bangladesh
  2. Dr Gitiara Nasreen
    Department of Mass Communication and Journalism,
    University of Dhaka,
    Dhaka, Bangladesh
  3. Ms Suraiya Chowdhury,
    Adviser- Design,
    Prokritee, Dhaka
  4. Ms Farida Akhter,
    Executive Director,
    UBINIG (Unnayan Bikalper Nitinirdharoni Gobeshona, Policy Research for Development Alternatives),
    Dhaka Bangladesh
  5.  Ms Nyma Nargis,
    Executive Director,
    Institute of Communication Studies,


  1. Ms Kesang Dema
    Co-Founder, Dhensel Research and Consulting,
  2. Mr Kuenley Dorji
    Tourism Officer, Tourism Council of Bhutan,


  1. Professor Veena Sikri,
    Founding Trustee and Convener, SWAN (South Asia Women’s Network),
    Former Ambassador, Vice-Chairperson, South Asia Foundation (SAF-India),
    New Delhi
  2. Ms Lalitha Kumaramangalam,
    Former Chairperson,
    India’s National Commission for Women,
    New Delhi
  3. Dr Malavika Chauhan,
    Head, Rural Upliftment Portfolio,
    Tata Trusts, Mumbai & Executive Director,
    Himmotthan Society (Sir Ratan Tata Trust),
    Dehradun, Uttarakhand
  4. Dr Vandana Shiva
    Director, Navdanya,
    Director, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology,
    New Delhi
  5. Dr Mira Shiva
    Director, Initiative for Health, Equity and Society,
    Founder member, Diverse Women for Diversity,
    New Delhi
  6. Professor Gita Bamezai,
    Head, Department of Communication Research,
    Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), New Delhi
  7. Dr Jaishri Jethwaney,
    Visiting Professor,
    ISID (Institute for Studies in Industrial Development),
  8. Dr Ananya Roy,
    Senior Consultant,
    Department of Communication Research,
    IIMC, New Delhi
  9. Ms Seema Goyal,
    Professor, ISID (Institute for Studies in Industrial Development)
    New Delhi
  10. Ms Seema Bhatt,
    Independent Consultant,
    Honorary Vice President, Ecotourism Society of India,
    New Delhi
  11. Ms Sarita Kumari
    Social Welfare Activist, Ghanerao,
  12. Mr Sanjay Bahti,
    Programme Coordinator,
    Himmotthan Society (Sir Ratan Tata Trust),
    Dehradun, Uttarakhand
  13. Mr Sunil Kumar Binjola,
    Director of Operations,
    South Asia Foundation (SAF India),
    New Delhi
  14. Mr MM Sharma,
    Former Senior Programme Director,
    ICCR (Indian Council for Cultural Relations)
    New Delhi


  1. Ms Sheeza Imad,
    Vice-President, SAWDF Chapter, Maldives
  2. Ms Fathimath Afiya,
    Member, MNEW, and Chairperson, Society Women Against Drugs (SWAD),
  3. Ms Hinna Khalid,
    Senior Research, Media & Marketing Consultant, Kazu Institute,
    Lecturer in Social Research, Media & Marketing & Development,
    Maps & Avid College,
  4. Ms Aishath Mohamed Rishtha,
    Society Women Against Drugs (SWAD), Male
  5. Ms Aminath Layal Manik,
    Member AWA, Producer and Presenter, Channel 13,


  1. Ms Thin Thin Aung
    Founder and Director, Mizzima Media Group,


  1. Ms. Ambica Shrestha,
    President, Dwarika’s Hotels and Resorts, & President,
    Federation of Business and Professional Women Nepal (FBPWN)
  2. Ms Yankila Sherpa
    Owner and Managing Director,
    Snow Leopard Trek, & Vice President, T-HELP (Trans-Himalayan Environment Livelihood Program Nepal) Kathmandu
  3. Ms Manisha Ghimire,
    President, Initiatives of Media Women (IMW),
    Anchor, Nepal TV, Kathmandu
  4. Mr Deepak Tamang,
    Chief Executive Officer,
    SEARCH-Nepal, Kathmandu
  5. Ms Indira Shrestha,
    Member Secretary, Executive Committee, Shtrii Shakti,


  1. Ms Mariana Baabar,
    Diplomatic Editor, The News,
    27A, Harkey Street,


  1. Ms Rohini Nanayakkara,
    Former CEO, Bank of Ceylon,
  2. Ms Mano Alles,
    Board Member,
    Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCIC),
  3. Ms Nishani Dissanayake,
    Foreign News Editor, Lakbima, Editor, Samudura,
  4. Dr Sujatha Samarakoon,
    Medical Consultant,
    Trustee AIDS Foundation Lanka,
    Public Health Specialist, Colombo
  5. Mr Palitha (Fredrick De Silva ) Gurusinghe
    President, Sri Lanka Ecotourism Foundation (SLEF),


  1. Mr Christian Manhart,
    Head, UNESCO Kathmandu Office, and UNESCO Representative to Nepal,
  2. Mr Al Amin Yusuph,
    Advisor for Communication and Information,
    UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office
    for Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka,
    New Delhi
  3. Mr Anirban Sarma,
    National Programme Officer,
    Communication and Information Sector
    UNESCO, New Delhi
  4. Ms Camila Ferro,
    Consultant, Communication and Information,
    UNESCO Pakistan,
  5. Ms Nirjana Sharma
    Programme Coordinator, Communication and Information,
    UNESCO Nepal, Kathmandu

Reports:SWAN 9 Annual Conference, Kathmandu- Presentations