Ever since the launching of regional cooperation in South Asia, issues related to women have figured prominently on the SAARC agenda. The Technical Committee on Women in Development was created under the erstwhile Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) in 1986. Thirteen Meetings of the Technical Committee held under IPA resulted in the formulation of a Regional Plan of Action on Women.
The Technical Committee on Women in Development was merged into the Technical Committee on Social Development under the SAARC Integrated Programme of Action (SIPA) in January 2000.
The Technical Committee on Social Development held one Meeting before it ceases to function with the creation of a new Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children under the revised Regional Integrated Programme of Action (RIPA) in January 2004.
Concerned over the trafficking of women and children within and between countries in the region, SAARC adopted a Regional Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution in January 2002, during the Eleventh Summit in Kathmandu. The Convention calls for cooperation amongst Member States in dealing with various aspects of prevention, interdiction and suppression of trafficking in women and children for prostitution, and repatriation and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. It also calls for prevention of use of women and children in international prostitution networks, particularly where countries of the region are the countries of origin, transit and destination.
The Thirteen Summit (Dhaka, 12-13 November 2005) affirmed its strong resolve to continue to work together to address the problem posed by trafficking in women and children. That Summit expressed satisfaction at the ratification of the above Convention by all Member States and called for effective measures for its early implementation.
The Association has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), to help Member States to strive towards the goals of gender equality based upon the empowerment approach. The MoU was signed in December 2001. Under the MoU, SAARC and UNIFEM are in the process of developing the SAARC Gender Database: Mapping Progress of Women in the South Asia Region.
Parallel to this official level pursuit, political level consultations have also been held to advance the cause of women. So far, as many as four Ministerial Conferences have been convened to address the specific concerns of women. Shillong (1986), Islamabad (1990), Kathmandu (1993) and Dhaka (1995). Another Ministerial Conference on Women would be held Pakistan in 2006.
The Ministerial Conference in Dhaka adopted a “Dhaka Resolution on Women”, which was later presented to the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995).
At the highest political level, the Leaders have continued to stress on the need to address issues affecting women. At their Eleventh Summit (Kathmandu, January 2002), the Leaders agreed to mobilize necessary resources and to intensify broad-based action to achieve a set of priority goals in improving the social status of women and children. These include, among others, (a) establishing a voluntary fund with the contribution from Member States, individuals, donor countries and agencies for rehabilitation and reintegration of the victims of trafficking; and (b) pursuing and promoting social development through empowerment of women and ensuring their full participation in decision making at all levels. At that Summit, the Leaders also reaffirmed their commitment to the upliftment of social status of women in the region through specific and target-oriented programs. They also directed that necessary measures be taken to ensure the development of women to their inherent potential.
Pursuant to a decision of the Eleventh Summit (Kathmandu, January 2002), the SAARC Autonomous Women’s Advocacy Group (SAWAG) was formed, to advocate mainstreaming gender and make recommendation on gender related issues and programmes in the region. The Group convened its First Meeting in June 2004 in Islamabad, and decided to commission a Study incorporating issues such as women’s citizenship, women’s political representation, trafficking and sexual exploitation, gender and HIV/AIDS, female education and literacy, legal rights and economic empowerment and impact of globalization on women.
The Thirteen Summit (Dhaka, 12-13 November 2005) reiterated its pledge to continue to work in the next decade and beyond to address the formidable challenges faced by women and children, especially the girl child. That Summit noted that sustained efforts were needed on the part of the Member States not only to free them from all types of deprivation but also to make them full partners and beneficiaries of South Asian progress and development.
SAARC Gender Info Base (SGIB) is a South Asian repository of qualitative and quantitative data and information on gender related issues and women empowerment. This regional effort crosses the conventional parameters of statistical data gathering exercises and aims at creating a comprehensive single pool of data/information on gender issues in different formats, including multimedia, making it a One Stop Gender Information Shop
Major areas of focus of the SGIB is on Feminization of Poverty, Health Issues (including HIV/AIDS), and Violence against women (especially Trafficking)
The Sixth SAARC-UN Women Review Meeting on SAARC Gender Info Base (SGIB) was held at the Colombo, from 16-17 February 2012 discussed SAARC and UN Women jointly commissioned an independent evaluation of the SGIB Programme and made specific recommendations to make SGIB initiative more effective.
Seventh SGIB Review meeting was held in Islamabad-Pakistan 25-26 March 2014 and it was decided that In the next phase of SGIB, the implementation of SGIB will be taken up within the framework of SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group (SAARC-GPAG), which would drive regional movement forward for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, in line with relevant regional and international commitments and CEDAW Concluding Observations.
Accordingly, the first meeting of SAARC-GPAG was held in Islamabad, Pakistan from 26-27 July, 2015 and identified the various thematic issues of common interest under Key Priorities for GPAG for the three years Action Plan.
The SAARC-Group recommended SAARC Secretariat to develop a detailed draft Action Plan for the next three years, with technical assistance from the Consultant/Gender Specialist (as approved in the ToR of the GPAG).