SWAN 7th Annual Conference, Maldives

Conference 2015 Funded by South Asia Foundation India


SWAN’s Maldives Declaration: Empowering the Women of South Asia

 Issued at SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference

Maldives, 7th October 2015

 The South Asia Women’s Network (SWAN) held its Seventh Annual Conference, dedicated to the theme “Empowering the Women of South Asia”, in Maldives on October 6 and 7, 2015. This Conference was organised in partnership with the Maldivian Network to Empower Women (MNEW), with the support of the South Asia Foundation (SAF-India).

SWAN brings together women leaders, academics, experts, activists and media representatives from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. SWAN coordinates its activities through eight sectoral networks, also called SWANs, respectively dealing with the Environment; Arts and Literature; Women in Peacemaking; Health, Nutrition and Food Sovereignty; Education; Crafts and Textiles; Women in Media; and Skills, Livelihood and Entrepreneurship Development with Access to Finance.

South Asia is endowed with rich natural resources, combined with immense geographic and biological diversity. The people of South Asia share a unique cultural and civilizational heritage, including spiritual philosophies and knowledge systems. This shared diversity is South Asia’s core strength, with enormous growth potential, which has yet to be tapped. Even where growth and development have taken place, this has been done with scant regard for ecological and environmental considerations, and even worse, without involving women and ensuring their empowerment as an intrinsic and inalienable part of the process of development.

SWAN recognises the common problems that women of South Asia face, including poverty, poor maternal and child health, low educational achievements and illiteracy, violence, social injustice, economic discrimination, lack of ownership or inadequate control over resources, tremendous vulnerability during and after environmental disasters and armed conflicts. SWAN further recognizes that these issues pertaining to women are common to all communities, religious beliefs and ethnic groups across South Asia, and have defied solution despite decades of effort by individual governments. The ongoing and overlapping financial, economic and ecological crises have seriously weakened the capacity of individual governments to overcome these problems. Despite several outstanding examples of individual and collective achievements by women across South Asia, women still constitute a large body of underprivileged citizens, surviving within the limits of an environment that is increasingly hostile and rapidly degrading.

SWAN agrees that even though efforts by individual governments to achieve the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have yielded positive results, the inability of the MDGs to take a holistic approach, or to go beyond the growth-oriented model of development to address issues of inequality, has led to the persistence of these crises, and, in particular, has failed to address the serious problems facing the women of South Asia.

In this context, SWAN emphasizes that gender equality and gender equity, women’s rights and women’s empowerment are central and fundamentally important, even a prerequisite for bringing in sustainable development through the post-2015 Development Agenda. SWAN urges that this objective, of achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment, be accepted as a cross-cutting priority in each of the 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), over and above SDG 5 on Gender Equality.

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 in all the three dimensions of sustainable development : socio-political, economic and environmental. 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 mission is to ensure a sustainable future for all through collective civil society action with women taking the lead in supporting and promoting a new paradigm of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that recognize the centrality of women’s empowerment and women’s rights in achieving the post-2015 Development Agenda. SWAN has as the core of its mission the search for pan-South Asian solutions to the socio-political, economic and ecological crises confronting the women of South Asia. SWAN affirms its commitment to provide the necessary leadership at the regional and global levels to foster the transition to sustainability. SWAN’s mission is to agree upon and propose innovative initiatives that need to be taken at the grass roots, community and policy-making levels across South Asia, so as to create sustainable models for the future, bringing in the centrality of women’s empowerment as an intrinsic part of this process. The proposed initiatives for structural change should recognize and bring on board concepts for sustainable societies, such as Gross National Happiness, the Planetary Boundaries Principle, and that of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities. Many such concepts are embedded in the culture, traditional knowledge and resilient traditional practices of South Asia.

SWAN’s strategy for bringing in sustainable development for the women of South Asia is based on strengthening partnerships through an institutional network across South Asia, working together to agree upon policy recommendations for governments, (including resistance to policies that perpetuate inequality, inequity and injustice); on strategies for leadership development (nurturing leadership among its members to implement and monitor sustainable development policies and programmes); and on capacity building for change at all levels (enhancing capacity to implement programmes that demonstrate and scale-up best practices for sustainable development). SWAN emphasizes the urgent need 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.

Based on this Vision, Mission and Strategy, SWAN agreed upon the Roadmap for Sustainable Development for the Women of South Asia, adopted on 24th August 2013 at its Fifth Annual Conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka. SWAN’s Roadmap, a detailed document, provides the structure for implementation in specific sectors, grouped under three heads : the new Socio-Political Order, the new Ecological Order and the new Economic Order. SWAN’s Sixth Annual Conference in Thimphu, Bhutan (2-3 September 2014) established the priorities for implementation, as selected from SWAN’s Roadmap for Sustainable Development.

SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference in Maldives (6-7 October 2015) on “Empowering the Women of South Asia”

SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference in Maldives marks the all-important shift to the process of implementation, focused on projects for empowering the women of South Asia. Professor Veena Sikri, Founder and Convener, SWAN, presented a detailed Report on SWAN’s activities, programmes and the specific steps taken in fulfilling the decisions agreed upon at SWAN’s Sixth Annual Conference in Thimphu.

The SWAN motto is “Wisdom, Unity, Dignity”. SWAN draws strength from the realization that since the problems facing the women of South Asia are common across borders, shared unity of purpose in overcoming them can yield positive and quick results. The women of South Asia want to be the change they want to see. In their collective wisdom, by exchanging experiences and sharing best practices, they are revitalizing their shared identity by developing the brand South Asia.

SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference welcomed the adoption by the UN General Assembly in New York on 25th September 2015 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of UN’s Agenda 2030. SWAN, as a member of the Women’s Major Group (a group of more than 600 women’s organisations and networks around the world), has been part of the process of advocacy for formulation of goals that would best serve the objective of bringing in gender equality and gender empowerment, together with recognizing this as the key facilitator in the achievement of all the SDGs. The preamble and the agreed Political Declaration contained in the SDG document call for a world in which “every woman and child enjoys full gender equality and all barriers to their empowerment in our societies have been removed’. It recognizes that “working for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls will make a crucial contribution to progress across all the goals and targets”.

Significantly, this Political Declaration also acknowledges the importance of the regional and sub-regional dimensions, that “regional and sub-regional frameworks can facilitate the effective translation of sustainable development policies into concrete action at national level”. This is indeed a strong validation of all that SWAN has been working to achieve.

The Conference recognized that, in the SDGs the stand-alone Goal 5, titled “Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls” is a definite advance on the MDGs. Goal 5 calls for an end to all forms of discrimination against women and girls, including elimination of discriminatory laws, policies and practices, and the adoption of policies and legislation to promote gender equality. It calls for the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls. It calls for recognizing and valuing unpaid care work performed by women and the provision of public services and social protection to reduce their burden of work. It calls for ensuring universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. It calls for reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws.

In addition to Goal 5, gender equality objectives are also contained in targets within the SDGs on Ending Poverty (Goal 1); on ending hunger, achieving food security, improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture (Goal 2); on Health and well-being (Goal 3); in a big way in Goal 4 on Education; on Water and Sanitation (Goal 6); on Employment and Decent Work (Goal 8); on Reducing Inequalities (Goal 10); on Peace and Justice (Goal 16); and Means of Implementation (Goal 17). Inter alia, these Goals call for doubling the agricultural productivity and the incomes of small-scale food producers, particularly women and other disadvantaged groups; ensuring that education promotes gender equality, that all girls complete primary and secondary education, that women have equal access to tertiary and vocational education, the elimination of gender disparities in education, and so on.

The SDGs, now committed to and accepted by all members of the UN, represent distinct progress over the MDGs. However, in its very scale and dimension, the difficulties in implementing and achieving these goals are self-evident. There is Goal 17 on “Strengthening the Means of Implementation and Revitalizing the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development”, but the source and quantum of financial resources required for implementation have not been specified. The process and modalities for monitoring have not been spelt out. Goal 5 on Gender Equality does not recognize the tremendous vulnerability of women during and after armed conflict and natural disasters. As a consequence of armed conflict and natural disasters, women are confronted with manifold worsening in the already serious problems of violence against women and discrimination in all its forms and manifestations, including their being denied access to education, access to financial and economic resources, and to adequate health services. In order to strengthen their ability to escape this downward spiraling trap, women must be fully represented in every peacemaking and conflict resolution process. This is woefully missing in today’s world, and is not adequately reflected in the SDGs.

The Conference agreed that SWAN should, within its own identified priority areas, seek a positive role in all efforts aimed at achieving the gender equality and gender empowerment targets specified in the SDGs, as relevant for the women of South Asia.

The Conference recognized the relevance of the recent (September 2015) Report by the McKinsey Global Institute titled “The Power of Global Gender Parity”. In terms of the Gender Parity Score elucidated in this Report, South Asia is the lowest in the world : lower than the Middle East and North Africa, lower than Sub-Saharan Africa, lower than China, lower than Southeast Asia, and of course, lower than the other more developed economies of the west.

In this context, SWAN particularly welcomes the Report’s recognition that economic development alone cannot close the gender gap. Rather, it is the other way around. If a nation or a region wants accelerated economic development, first close the gender gap through targeted interventions. This will lead to a sharply quickened pace of economic growth. Gender inequality and lack of gender empowerment have left women outside the growth paradigm in every economy in South Asia, and this is now a big drag on economic growth, slowing it down. In short “if women do not achieve their full economic potential, the global economy will suffer”.

The Report postulates that in the case of India, the share of GDP generated by women is only 17 per cent, and that India’s GDP could see a jump of about 60 per cent by 2025 (over the next ten years) if the gender equality issue is resolved, and more women join the organized work force. For the rest of South Asia (other than India) the Report says that the figure would be a 48 per cent increase in GDP over the next ten years, in a “full potential” or full success scenario. The Report has identified high impact zones where concentration of effort can yield maximum results for society as a whole, and women in particular. The critical areas are shift in attitudes (what SWAN describes as Changing Mindsets) for achieving gender equality in society, through emphasis on education (including skills development) levels; financial and digital inclusion; legal protection and political voice (gender sensitive laws); physical security and autonomy (elimination of violence); and bringing unpaid care work into the mainstream of GDP calculations.

The Report strongly postulates bridging the gender gap (sector-wise) at the same rate as the fastest improving country in the regional peer group. If the best-in-the-region scenario is followed, India’s GDP could increase by 16 per cent over the next ten years, and the rest of South Asia’s GDP could increase by 11 per cent over the next ten years. This validates SWAN’s focus on exchanging experiences and best practices among the participating nine countries of South Asia. SWAN’s proposed interventions targeting gender empowerment are based on best-in-the-region scenarios, achieved through sharing best practices and learning from each other in each of our eight sectoral networks.

At its Seventh Annual Conference in Maldives, SWAN’s discussions focused on the following :

  1. Inaugural Session :

SWAN delegates from across nine countries benefitted greatly from the guidance, advice, views and words of wisdom conveyed by the distinguished dignitaries present on this occasion. These were HE Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, former President of Maldives; HE Ilham Hussain, former First Lady of Maldives, Founder and Chairperson of Maldives Autism Association; HE Lyonpo Dorji Choden, Chairperson, National Commission for Women and Children, Minister for Works and Human Settlement, Government of Bhutan; and HE Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, Government of India.

  1. Working Session 1 : Changing Mindsets for Empowering the Women of South Asia :

 This is the core issue for SWAN and for all the women of South Asia. 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 ensured women’s subordinate role within family and society, and has exposed women to violence in its worst forms, has seriously reduced access of the girl child to educational facilities, and of 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.

Across South Asia, the nexus between the patriarchal mindset and violence against women is direct and so deep-seated that it has defied every effort to uproot it. Violence against women destroys their self-respect and self-confidence, thereby inhibiting their ability to participate in public life, or even exert their authority within the family.

 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” in collaboration with Shtrii Shakti, Kathmandu and SEARCH-Nepal. 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”, organised in collaboration with Jamia Millia Islamia University. 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.

This Conference was very well attended, with the Inaugural and Keynote address being delivered by HE Rula Ghani, First Lady of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference in Maldives discussed in detail the outcome of and follow-up needed on the April 2015 deliberations. The revolution South Asia needs in changing mindsets covers both men and women. The role of older women in the family is all-important. Older women, mothers and mothers-in-law, need to move away from the boy-child fixation that is so ubiquitous across South Asia. Women need to be pro-active in resisting the constant onslaught of opinion that relegates the girl-child to the fringes of family love and attention. Young women must be nurtured to acquire the self-confidence (through education and family support) that will give them the level playing field as they seek jobs or start their own families. As one of the delegates from Afghanistan told the Conference “When women respect themselves, and see themselves as strong and equal partners to men, men inevitably show respect…Women are born with their rights, and unless they give it away, no one can take it away”.

Findings from a recent study conducted in Sri Lanka on masculinities, gender equality and violence, brought to the attention of the Conference by the delegate from Sri Lanka, reveal that two-thirds of the male sample had perpetrated sexual violence, including rape, for the first time between ages of 20 and 29, and one-third between the ages of 15 and 19. Furthermore, the key motivation for men to rape was their concept of sexual entitlement, their right to have sexual relations. This emphasizes that, if we seek to change mindsets, we need to work with young boys and adolescent men. There are two avenues for doing this : one is through the family, since the home-space is the one where “masculinist notions are born and perpetuated by those within”; and the other is through the primary and secondary school system, including non-formal education and sports associations. Young students, male and female, should be educated on issues such as sexual and reproductive health, prevention of gender-based violence and the promotion of gender equality. As we heard from the delegate of Bhutan, there are serious challenges in eliminating violence against women, including domestic violence. These challenges need to overcome even after the National Legislature has adopted the law on this subject, no matter how rigorous and stringent this may be.

Innovative approaches to the educational process are vital for bringing in the much-needed mindset changes for empowering the women of South Asia. Educational curriculum should be reviewed to ensure gender-sensitivity and inculcating respect for women. Non-traditional methodologies, including street theatre, non-formal education, use of sports associations, and above all, the life-long learning approach should be inculcated for “changes in mindset amongst high and low in the political and bureaucratic establishments, including police and the judiciary”.

Delegates pointed out that across South Asia, women’s role continues to be seen as confined to the family, to reproduction, and to house-work. She remains ‘economically invisible’ since the value of her work goes un-estimated and un-included in GDP statistics, even when she is responsible for the lion’s share of the work, including in the agricultural sector. In increasing instances where women in urban areas are holding responsible jobs, the burden of home-care continues to fall primarily on her shoulders, since in South Asia, the concept of sharing domestic responsibilities is still largely absent. Delegates supported women-centric patterns for socio-economic empowerment and development. Women are the repositories of traditional knowledge, be it in healing remedies, cuisine, folk legend, and traditions of dance and music. Yet they are the worst sufferers of ill-health, be it the result of inadequate access to medical facilities, or just malnutrition due to poverty and social tradition that forces them to be the last to eat in the household, even if they are pregnant or lactating. In order to improve abysmal health standards across South Asia, the Conference emphasized that women be made the focal-point for all government and NGO interventions in the health sector. As one speaker in this segment said, the socio-economic empowerment of women “does not happen with a request. It occurs when we demand, when we are well-informed, when we persevere and most importantly, when we work on the issue together”.

Discussions at the Conference focused on policy recommendations, advocacy programmes and networking in order to achieve the stated objectives. The  Conference agreed upon innovative initiatives that need to be taken at the grass roots, community and policy-making levels across South Asia, so as to create sustainable models for the future, bringing in the centrality of women’s empowerment as an intrinsic part of this process. There was strong consensus among the participants on non-violence as the methodology of choice for all situations; on supporting the role of women as peace-leaders through appropriate capacity-building; on ensuring that women and the girl-child have easy and sufficient access to education and life-long learning; on ensuring adequate representation of women in all mechanisms and institutions of governance.

In follow-up of the discussions and decisions of the April 2015 Conference, and SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference, SWAN is preparing several major initiatives. Significant among these is the proposed initiative on “Changing Mindsets through Education”. Inculcating respect for women, and appreciation of the need for gender equality and women’s empowerment, is a process that can succeed only if it commences through the education process, beginning with the primary levels. Values imbibed at young ages, whether in the family or at school, stay embedded in one’s psyche, with lifelong impact. This can play a significant role both in eliminating the cruel spectre of violence against women, and, with great effect, bring men on board for empowering the women of South Asia.

  • Working Session 2 : 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.

Most of this substantial contribution by women remains unevaluated (and poorly remunerated or unpaid), and as such, is not taken into account or included as part of GDP estimations. 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. Artisans in remote areas may be skilled in their traditional crafts but due to their isolated context they very often lack sufficient entrepreneurial skills and knowledge of market demands, and hence are unable to generate a fair and stable return for their endeavours.

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.

SWAN delegates strongly urged that a project be developed to help such vulnerable women and girls, enabling them to leverage their traditional skills and acquire entrepreneurial knowledge, so that are empowered and confident of their pace in society. The threefold objective is first, to empower young girls and women through a holistic approach to skills enhancement, covering key aspects of the value-chain. This includes technical and technological design and raw material inputs, quality control, improved marketing techniques, access to finance, and eco-friendly guidance (natural dyes, organic materials, waste utilization and management). Second, an equally significant objective is to create a platform for sharing experiences and exchanging best practices among the participating SWAN countries in order to benefit from each other’s successes, thereby hastening the process of skills and entrepreneurship development among the women of South Asia. The third objective, made much more doable through this proposed network of institutions, is to create a methodology for the designing, development and marketing of SWAN branded products.

Expected outcomes of a three-year incorporating these objectives would include:

  • Increased earning capacity for women. It is expected that at least 50% of the participating women would turn entrepreneurial, with their enterprises up and running at the end of three years;
  • Increased confidence in understanding economic self-reliance and the meaning of human dignity;
  • Increasing the creative skills of women by Including more women in the productivity process;
  • Conserving indigenous and traditional knowledge of heritage skills;
  • Branded products of SWAN in the market;
  • Demonstrating sustainable development through women’s work;
  • Strengthening women’s agency, voice and participation in decision-making and in access to and control over resources, within the household, within the community and in society as a whole.

Bhutan, India, Afghanistan, Maldives and Nepal showed keen interest in participating in this project. Pakistan (Behbud in garments), Bangladesh (Prokritee in paper-making), Sri Lanka (Selyn Exports) and Myanmar (Cherie in handicrafts and value-chain development) agreed on sharing expertise to develop the project.

Bhutan agreed to take leadership in developing the project for submission for financing to the SAARC Development Fund.

  1. Working Session 3 : Ecotourism for Sustainable Development and Gender Empowerment in South Asia :

SWAN’s focus on ecotourism emerged from the eponymous Workshop held in Thimphu in September 2014 in conjunction with SWAN’s Sixth Annual Conference. At SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference, the discussions and decisions of the 2014 Workshop were carried forward and given shape through focused project-development.

The countries of South Asia share a unique civilisational heritage. South Asia is also 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. The conference recognised that 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 it 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 socio-economic development of regions and people. Ecotourism is environmentally responsible tourism. Ecotourism inculcates respect for different cultures and sub-cultures.

The Conference emphasised that 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. While 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. It is important to develop eco-tourism in order to promote pro-poor value chains and products for women’s empowerment in South Asia. The very nature of ecotourism value chain encompasses within itself key sub-sectors that are predominantly women centric.

The Conference provided an opportunity for leading eco-tourism practitioners and promoters, and leading activists promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in South Asia to share best practices and exchange ideas on ways and means to benefit rural and under privileged women in South Asia by enhancing the quality of their lives through eco-tourism with community involvement. It has been agreed that each country should establish norms and criteria for the development of sustainable tourism with due attention to gender empowerment, covering all forms of tourism, including heritage, adventure, water-based, medical, wild-life and nature tourism, among others.

It is important to provide regular opportunities to exchange best practices regarding community-based tourism among the countries of the region, including on tourism policies, as well as organic farming, inculcating the right mind-set on issues of hygiene, waste management, energy conservation and other eco-tourism practices, as well as sensitising children in school through education curricula and compulsory social service.

It is equally important to cultivate capacity in order to develop proper infrastructure, hospitality training, expertise on home-stays, interpretation centres, skills on dissemination of information and marketing, and training on safety and security norms in order to develop ecotourism as a self-sustaining enterprise. Financial access (through banking and micro financing channels) should be provided at low interest rates, especially for small and medium entrepreneurs including women. All governments in their tourism policies should give special incentives for environment friendly investments and practices that can promote ecotourism. It is vital to encourage greater tourism exchanges among South Asian countries, including through improved connectivity, easier access (visa facilitation), and development of portals and websites for ready access to updated information.

Based on these discussions, the Conference agreed to develop a project that will focus on ecotourism as the thrust area for promoting sustainable development and gender empowerment amongst the women of South Asia. It is proposed that the consolidated project with select sites for the development of ecotourism from all the nine SWAN countries will be submitted with the request for funding from the SAARC Development Fund (SDF).

Objectives of the Proposed Project:

  • Create a network of select ecotourism destinations across the 9 member countries;
  • Improve skill sets associated with ecotourism management aimed towards greater integration of the community members, especially women, within the supply chain;
  • Establish and strengthen associated services in order to spread the benefits associated with ecotourism to a wide range of population, once agin with the focus on women and youth;
  • Establish the vital market-connect between the nations of South Asia aimed at strengthening ecotourism business linkages, cross-cultural exchanges, and sharing of experiences and best practices in ecotourism;
  • Building, handholding and strengthening the ecotourism marketing federation.

The Project : Based on individual presentations in Working Session 3, the following inputs were noted for the development of ecotourism under the proposed project:


Proposed Site: Khasia Village in Sylhet district and eco-village in Tangail

This has 60 settlements with a population of ten to twelve thousand people. There is need to support education for girls and overall health services. Day trips to this site can be planned for tourists to experience first-hand, the culture of the people. However, it is important to focus on capacity-building for aspects of skill development, hospitality, sanitation etc. There is a hotel nearby that can help market products produced by the community (Ms Rokia Rahman).


Proposed Site: Inle Lake

Inle Lake is situated on the Shan Plateau in Myanmar. This beautiful highland lake is 900 meters above sea level and is home to many different ethnic communities. The Intha people also known as lake dwellers are known for their leg-rowing. Leg- rowed traditional boats are the main ceremonial attractions of the Inle Lake. The lake is also a rich repository of biodiversity.

Rapid tourism in the area over the last ten years or so has indeed been a challenge. The Inle Heritage Hospitality Vocational Training Center is involving communities in various activities related to the conservation of the lake and is also helping change the mindset of the people. The foundation is helping revive the lost heritage of the local communities by promoting local cuisine through what is called, ‘The Grandmama’s kitchen’. The Inle Heritage Hospitality Vocational Training Centre could be an ideal site for joint trainings under this project (Mr Aung Kyaw Swar and Mr Aung Phyo).

Bhutan : Tourism in Bhutan started in 1974 and has followed a very different model. This principle focus has been on ‘High Value and Low Impact Tourism’. All tours are led by trained guides on designated trekking routes to ensure that tourism is sustainable. There is also a fair distribution of income amongst all stakeholders.  Selected sites for community-based tourism in Tsirang and Dagana districts : The districts of Tsirang and Dagana are being considered for community-based tourism under this project. Tsirang is known for its gentle slopes and mild climates and is also rich in biodiversity. Dagana, also rich in forest diversity is known for its three stone megaliths (Ms. Sangay Lhaden).

Sri Lanka

Selected sites for agro-tourism

Agro-tourism is a rapidly growing sub-set under the ecotourism sector. This kind of tourism helps in promoting indigenous crop varieties and techniques with an emphasis on organic farming. It also introduces tourists to rural culture and way of life. It is proposed that selected sites for agro-tourism will be promoted through this project. SWAN Sri Lanka will be the mediator for this project. Training modules will require to be developed as also a marketing strategy. Co-financing models will also be considered (Ms Dayani Panagoda and Ms Mano Alles).


Pakistan has a huge potential for ecotourism, but there is little development on this front.

Potential sites for the development of ecotourism may be Taxila and/ or Shigar.

Located in the Rawalpindi district of Pakistan’s Punjab province Taxila, is a vast serial site that includes a Mesolithic cave and the archaeological remains of four early settlement sites, Buddhist monasteries, and a Muslim mosque and madrassa. Situated strategically on a branch of the Silk Road that linked China to the West, Taxila was at its peak between the 1st and 5th centuries. It is now one of the most important archaeological sites in Asia and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Located on the route to the legendry mountain K-2, the Shigar complex comprises of a 400-year-old Fort / Palace and two more recent buildings, the “Old House” and the “Garden House” that have been restored by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC).  The former Palace of the Raja of Shigar has been transformed into a 20-room heritage guesthouse/ hotel that showcases Balti culture.  The AKTC project also focuses on involving the local community to help with their economic upliftment (Professor Shehnaz Ismail).

Nepal : Tamang Nature Trail Tamang Heritage Trek is a unique trek through the Langtang Valley (Rasuwa district). It is different because it offers a glimpse into the culture and traditions of the Tamangs, people of Tibetan origin. The trekking route also traverses spectacular landscapes. It is also urged that the SEE Ecotourism Framework be looked at (Mr Deepak Tamang, Search-Nepal).

Two additional sites in Nepal cover Sindhupalchowk district (coordinated by T-Help, Trans-Himalayan Environment Program) and Nuwakot district coordinated by FBPWN (Federation of Business and Professional Women in Nepal). Developing ecotourism projects in these three sites in Nepal will play a crucial role in the socio-economic rehabilitation of earthquake-affected women in marginalized communities.


Proposed Sites Jageshwar, located in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, is a known both for its spiritual/religious significance as well as natural beauty.  The Jageshwar temple complex has over 123 temples. There are also several trekking routes for the nature lovers.

Pangot, also in Uttarakhand is a very popular birding site. It is strategically located with Nainital only 15 kms away and Corbett National Park about 80 kms from there.

Chintan has been working at these two destinations to address the issue of solid waste management and attempts to make them ‘zero waste’ through doing waste audits and other activities (Ms Chitra Mukherjee).


UNESCO has declared the Baa Atoll as a Biosphere Reserve. It is located in the central western part of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and houses globally significant biodiversity among its numerous reefs. It also demonstrates a long history of human interaction with the environment. The two most significant activities here are tourism and fisheries. Six islands have been developed as resorts for tourism and more than 350,000 tourists now visit the area each year. Resorts on these islands are the main source of income, but tuna and reef fishing are also important activities. Tourism is carried out in a regulated manner.


For Afghanistan, although not the appropriate time, the Bamiyan site may be looked at for future development. The Bamiyan Valley in enclosed within the high Hindu Kush mountains in the central highlands of Afghanistan. The valley has eight separate sites forming an ensemble of Buddhist monasteries, chapels and sanctuaries dating from the 3rd to the 5th century C.E. Carved into the Bamiyan cliffs are the niches of the two giant statues that were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Culturally also this is a unique region with several local communities dwelling in caves.

Cross–cutting Issues

It is important that all the proposed sites within this project link to the agro-ecology of the region and make a conscious effort to promote indigenous agricultural species and practice organic agriculture (Dr Mira Shiva). Waste management is another important issue that every proposed site will need to address. Capacity building for this aspect needs to be done at the central level (Ms Chitra Mukherjee). Monitoring and evaluation must also be an ongoing activity with the same indicators being used across the board. Finally, this initiative must be looked upon as a process and not a project with active involvement of the media and the government.

Next Steps

It is proposed that each country works on a brief profile for each proposed site in the following format, highlighting how the project will support gender empowerment by generating self-sustaining entrepreneurial projects during its three-year duration:

(i) Reason for Selection (Unique Selling Point- USP)

  • Biodiversity
  • Culture/Heritage
  • Other

(ii) Proposed Activities

  • Home Stays
  • Rural livelihood-based activities (Organic Agriculture)
  • Treks/hikes/day walks
  • Bird/butterfly watching
  • Participation in traditional games
  • Others

             (iii) Proposed Executing Agency (Brief Background)

India (Veena Sikri) agreed to take the initiative in coordinating this project for submission to the SAARC Development Fund.

  1. Working Session 4 : First Steps in the UNESCO-SWAN Initiative on “Women for Change: Building a Gendered Media”

 UNESCO and SWAN have come together with this unique initiative on women in media in South Asia. This project was launched at SWAN’s Sixth Annual Conference in Thimphu in September 2014 with a strong message of encouragement and positive support from Mr Shigeru Aoyagi, Director and UNESCO Representative to Bhutan, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

At SWAN’s Seventh Annual Conference in Maldives, vibrant and animated discussions were held among the working group on media on the specific activities and projects that should be taken up in implementation of this initiative. The recommendations and outcome of these discussions, under the rubric of Working Session 4 on ‘Breaking Barriers, Claiming Spaces: Building a Gendered Media for the Women of South Asia’ are given below.


1.1. Media Training Workshops

  • Three journalism training workshops (4-5 days each) will be conducted in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka[2] The workshops will focus on gender mainstreaming in journalism (on specific themes that are to be identified)[3] and the sensitization of gatekeepers on the need for gender-sensitive reporting.


  • Each workshop will be attended by at least 20 practising women journalists in the age group 35–45, covering member countries of the SWAN network. (At least 2 journalists from each country are expected to attend each training workshop.)[4]
  • Participants will be expected to produce at least three reports (of a stipulated length) in the six months following the workshops. These reports will be published or broadcast by the media organizations they work for.
  • Participants will be expected to share their experience of researching and writing these reports, and the knowledge acquired from these workshops via the tools discussed in Section 4.2.
  • A desktop publication consisting of their reportage and experiences could be produced after each workshop.
  • A regional contest may be considered to recognize and award the best pieces of reportage submitted after the training workshops

1.2. Strengthening the Regional Network of Women Journalists[5]

   A four-day regional consultation and capacity-building workshop will be held for SWAN managers / administrators and the country moderators of its online forum. The consultation and workshop will focus on:

 Exchanging best practices, country case studies and journalistic experiences: In close consultation with external experts, a formal, structured system of posting and sharing best practices, country case studies and women journalists’ professional experiences will be established. Suitable templates and submission guidelines will be developed and disseminated across the network. A methodology for optimizing participation (MOP) will be developed to engage members of the network and facilitate the regular exchange of knowledge and experiences.

  • Managing and expanding the network: The process of moderation is critical to the management and expansion of the online women journalists’ forum. The capacity-building workshop for SWAN’s country moderators will focus on how to: implement the MOP; sustain ongoing discussions and initiate new ones; assess the vibrancy of the network; and develop strategies to maintain / increase vibrancy and enlist new members.

1.3. Sharing knowledge and promoting gender sensitivity

UNESCO has developed a wide range of tools for promoting gender sensitivity and gender equality in journalism. In collaboration with SWAN, some selected materials could be updated and customized for a South Asian context. Also, a set of guidelines could be developed specifically for gender mainstreaming in the South Asian media (both in terms of media content and employment practices). All knowledge products will be disseminated and promoted through the SWAN network, UNESCO’s networks and other related stakeholder networks, with the objective of educating both men and women about the importance of substantive gender equality.


 2.1 Observations

  • IFJ in collaboration with UNESCO and UN Women, have produced seven country reports in mid-2015, looking at respective newsrooms in India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Malaysia and Vanavatu.
  • The country studies and the regional studies reconfirm what we already know. The same stereotypes, absence of women at decision making, holding low and mid-level jobs, which are non-tech, absence of institutional mechanisms, the high prevalence of sexual harassment in the work place, labour issues including low wages, poor re-entry opportunities post child birth still persists.
  • Women are not visible in networks and unions, unless these platforms are for women only.
  • Newspapers produced by women in rural areas and small towns, who are full time professionals also need to be included in training programmes. Media content (including that of the online media) is governed by business and political intentions; hence the content is not independent or objective, there is less focus on issues outside urban contexts.
  • It is strongly felt that mindsets need to change not only with respect to media content but within institutions / institutional structures, and with respect to wages, opportunities for better skilling, training etc.
  • In some of our countries, such as Afghanistan, the space for media has increased significantly since the Taliban influence lessened. Yet, women journalists continue to face much intimidation and violence. They also tend to receive little support from politicians.

 2.2 Recommendations

The South Asia media should now start focusing on training media personnel on the following subjects:

2.2.1 Training and mentoring for women journalists

Suggested themes for training sessions

  • Women and peace-building
  • Women and disaster risk reduction: Reporting on disasters, and mobilizing women’s participation leadership in post-disaster planning, relief and reconstruction
  • Reporting in conflict zones and sexual violence in conflict areas
  • Reporting on forced migration
  • Reporting on forced disappearances
  • Using social media to connect women, particularly in high-risk areas
  • Sensitising journalists on laws friendly towards women
  • Educating women journalists about their legal rights[6]
  • Building awareness of gender policies and gender-neutral language

Methodological points

  • Use existing modules for training / Customize and update existing modules to the extent possible
  • Having trained women journalists from different countries in the first workshop or two, a few of them may be engaged as trainers in the subsequent workshop(s)
  • The training should be divided into three segments:
  • Capacity development to report on key themes of national and regional importance (refer to the ‘suggested themes listed above’)
  • The portrayal of women in and by the media (e.g. regressive portrayal on screen, negative coverage of rape / murder /suicide, representation in advertisements, etc.)
  • Problems faced by women in the media, especially in the regional media (e.g. discriminatory rules for women journalists in smaller towns vis-à-vis journalists in metropolitan cities; lack of facilities, resources and basic infrastructure for women journalists)
  • Encourage senior journalists to actively mentor younger women journalists in newsrooms
  • Include men in gender training and have advocacy initiatives for media owners and managers
  • Post-workshop knowledge sharing must involve translation of learning materials into various national / regional languages


  • IFJ Asia Pacific has shared its Gender Charter (adopted by IFJ affiliates in 7 countries in 2014) with the SWAN panellists / working group on media. Also see recommendation in Section 2.2.4.
  • IFJ is exploring the possibility of offering financial support for the present initiative, particularly for the media training workshops.

2.2.2 Issues related to representation in media organizations / professional bodies

  • Need for promotion and support for introducing mechanisms to deal with sexual harassment
  • Need to assist women to organize themselves through unions to demand equal wages, merit-based promotions etc
  • Need to focus on empowering women even if they are not economically challenged

2.2.3 Use of the SWAN Media Facebook page and other social media

  • SWAN members to sign up for the SWAN Media Network Facebook page (SWAN Facebook), actively post relevant material, and encourage personal contacts and networks to share relevant information as well
  • Strengthen the online / social media platforms of SWAN (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, the website) with the support and engagement of all SWAN members

2.2.4 Miscellaneous recommendations

  • Implement the 2014 Gender Charter adopted by IFJ affiliates in seven countries of South Asia
  1. Valedictory Session :

This Session, chaired by Professor Veena Sikri, received the reports of all the four Working Sessions. There was lively debate on these reports. SWAN delegates expressed satisfaction with the move towards specific projects. Each of the proposed projects target grass-roots participants, seeking to empower them through their work, inculcating in them a sense of pride and dedication to the cause of women’s empowerment.

SWAN’s Eighth Annual Conference will be held in Myanmar in the last quarter of 2016.


  1. Professor Veena Sikri, Founder and Convener, SWAN (South Asia Women’s Network), former Ambassador and Vice-Chairperson, South Asia Foundation (SAF-India), New Delhi


  1. Ms Najiba Ayubi, Director General, Development and Humanitarian Services for Afghanistan, Kabul
  1. Ms Zulaikha Rafiq, Executive Director, AWEC (Afghan Women’s Education Centre), Kabul
  1. Ms Zakia Wardak, President, Z Plus (Construction, Engineering, Consultancy and Logistics), President, Society of Afghan Women in Engineering and Construction (SAWEC), Kabul
  1. Ms Zerkai Kazimi,

Provincial Coordinator in UNDP/GEP Project,



  1. Ms Rokia Rahman, President, Bangladesh Federation of Women Entrepreneurs (BFWE), Dhaka
  1. Ms Shaheen Anam, Executive Director, Manusher Jonno Foundation, Dhaka
  1. Ms Munni Saha, Head of News, ATN News, Dhaka
  1. Ms Suraiya Chowdhury, Director of Design, Prokritee, Dhaka


  1. Hon’ble Lyonpo Dorji Choden, Chairperson, National Commission for Women and Children, Minister for Works and Human Settlement, Government of Bhutan, Thimphu
  1. Ms Kesang Chuki Dorjee, Managing Director, KCD Productions, Thimphu
  1. Dr Meenakshi Rai, Director, Community Outreach Department, RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women), Thimphu
  1. Ms Roseleen Gurung, Senior Programme Officer, Tarayana Foundation, Thimphu
  1. Ms Sangay Lhaden, Tourism Council of Bhutan, Thimphu


  1. Hon’ble Ms Lalitha Kumaramangalam, Chairperson, National Commission for Women, New Delhi
  1. Dr Mira Shiva, Director, Initiative for Health, Equity and Society, and founder member, Diverse Women for Diversity, New Delhi
  1. Ms Nandini Sahai, Director, Media Information and Communication Centre of India (MICCI), New Delhi
  1. Ms Shalini Joshi, Managing Director, Women Media and News Trust (WoMeN Trust), New Delhi
  1. Ms Seema Bhatt, Independent Consultant, Honorary Vice President, Ecotourism Society of India (ESOI), New Delhi
  1. Ms Sohaila Kapur, Freelance Journalist, Theatre Director and Playwright, New Delhi
  1. Dr Sabiha Hussain, Associate Professor, Dr KR Narayanan Centre for Dalit and Minority Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi
  1. Ms Bhavana Gadre, Director, Dimpact Solutions Pvt Ltd, Nasik, Maharashtra
  1. Ms Chitra Mukherjee, Manager (Outreach and Advocacy), Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, New Delhi
  1. Ms Achla Savyasachi, Consultant, Micro-Finance Institutions’ Network (MFIN), New Delhi
  1. Ms Usha Ganguli, Theatre Director, Rangakarmee, Kolkata
  1. Mr Anirban Sharma, National Programme Officer (Communication and Information), UNESCO India, New Delhi
  1. Mr Sunil Kumar Binjola, Director of Operations, South Asia Foundation (SAF -India), New Delhi


  1. Dr Mariyam Shakeela, Former Cabinet Minister, Chairperson, Maldivian Network to Empower Women (MNEW), Chairperson, Institute of Counselling and Psychotherapy, CEO, SIMDI Group of Companies, Male
  1. Ms Fathimath Afiya, Vice Chair, Maldivian Network to Empower Women (MNEW), Male
  1. Ms Fathimath Afiya, Member MNEW, Chairperson, Society Women Against Drugs (SWAD), Male
  1. Ms Sheeza Imad, President, Association for Maldivian Women’s Economic Development (WED), Male
  1. Ms Azima Shukoor, Former Attorney General and Former Cabinet Minister of Maldives, Male
  1. Ms Rizna Zareer, Senior Journalist, Raajje TV, Male
  1. Ms Aishath Farhath Ali, Wetland Coordinator, Ministry of Environment and Energy, Male
  1. Ms Shidhata Shareef, Former Deputy for Law and Gender, Institute for Counselling and Psychotherapy (ICP), Male


  1. Ms Khyn Hla Hla Aung (Cherie), CEO  & Designer, Elephant House Co. Ltd, Yangon
  1. Mr Aung Kyaw Swar, Principal, Inle Heritage Hospitality Vocational Training Centre, Inle Lake
  1. Mr Aung Phyo Min, Front Office Trainer and Host of Thahara Inle Heritage, Inle Lake


  1. Ms Manisha Ghimire, President, Initiatives of Media Women (IMW), Kathmandu
  1. Mr Deepak Tamang, Chief Executive Officer, SEARCH-Nepal, Kathmandu
  1. Ms Shanta Laxmi Khadge, Chairperson, Shtrii Shakti, Kathmandu
  1. Ms Bishnu Joshi Sharma, Gender Master Trainer, Shtrii Shakti, Kathmandu


  1. Ms Mariana Baabar, Diplomatic Editor, The News, 27 A, Harley Street, Rawalpindi
  1. Ms Abida Malik, Senior Vice President, Behbud Association of Pakistan, Rawalpindi
  1. Professor Shehnaz Ismail, Dean, Faculty of Design, Indus Valley School of art and Architecture, Karachi
  1. Ms Madiha Kazi, Textile Designer, Karachi
  1. Ms Mome Saleem, Research Coordinator, Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI), Islamabad


  1. Sandra Wanduragale, Attorney-at-Law and Notary Public, Founder Chairman, Selyn Exports, Colombo
  1. Mano Alles, Board Member, Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry (WCIC), Colombo
  1. Dr Sepali Kottegoda, Executive Director, Women and Media Collective, Colombo
  1. Ms Dilrukshi Handunetti, Attorney-at-Law & Senior Associate Editor, Sunday Observer, Gender Coordinator, International Federation of Journalists Asia-Pacific, Colombo
  1. Dr Sujatha Samarakoon, Medical Consultant, Trustee AIDS Foundation Lanka, Public Health Specialist, Colombo
  1. Ms Shyamala Gomez, Country Director, FOKUS WOMEN, Colombo
  1. Ms Dayani Panagoda, Attorney at Law, Technical Advisor, GIZ German Development Corporation, Colombo

[1] The plan for this initiative and its constituent activities have been outlined in the Concept Note prepared by UNESCO and SWAN and titled Women for Change: Building a Gendered Media’ – A UNESCO–SWAN Initiative. The present Outcome Document makes a few additions, such as the suggestions in Section 1.1 that a desktop publication and regional contest could be considered.

[2] The first workshop is to be held in New Delhi in March / April 2016. The second workshop is to be held in Dhaka in 2017 and the third in Colombo in 2018. This distribution has been considered as it may be difficult to raise funds for more than one regional training workshop per year.

[3] Five themes (along with relevant sub-themes) were identified in the Concept Note prepared by SWAN and LSR College for the first media training workshop to be held in New Delhi. UNESCO and the Women in Media and News Trust subsequently contributed their insights to this Concept Note. The proposed title of the workshop, as given in the Concept Note, is ‘Breaking Barriers, Claiming Spaces: Building a Gendered Media for the Women of South Asia’. Building on the five themes of the Concept Note, Section 2.2.1 of the present Outcome Document lists several more themes for consideration.

[4] The methodology for selecting workshop participants is to be agreed upon by the working group on media.

[5] Individual Concept Notes for modules 1.2 and 1.3 are to be prepared subsequently. These Notes will be essential both for identifying the specific activities involved, estimating the amount of funding required, and then for circulation while trying to raise funds.

[6] It could be suggested to Senior Editors to carry a regular weekly column on this subject in their newspapers. Also, it would be worthwhile to have one interactive session between the Senior Editors and the workshops’ trainees. In this way, the problems and challenges faced by the latter could be directly conveyed to the Editors and concrete suggestions given for practical implementation.