GENDER related issues
Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children
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.
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 in January 2004.
In its first Meeting which was held in Dhaka in November 2005, the Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children formulated broad strategies and guidelines for effective implementation of its mandate. The Committee also reviewed the status of implementation of the Convention on Regional Arrangements for the Promotion of Child Welfare and Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.
During the Second Meeting of the Technical Committee was held in Dhaka in July 2007, the book titled “Gender Initiatives in SAARC: A Primer” jointly developed by SAARC Secretariat and UNIFEM, was launched. The Committee reviewed the progress in the observance of SAARC Decade of the Rights of Child (2001-2010) and made number of recommendations. The Committee also reviewed the progress on the preparation of the SAARC Gender Info Base (SGIB) and identified two regional projects namely, (i) Project for the skill development of care-providers and vocational training for disabled women and children; and production and distribution centres for artificial limbs, and Project for the development of strategies aimed at eliminating Child Labour in SAARC Countries.
The Third Meeting of the Technical Committee was held in Dhaka in October 2008. During the Meeting, Nepal proposed SAARC Charter on Widows in line with the directive of the Fifteenth SAARC Summit. The Committee reviewed the status of preparation of SAARC Gender Info Base and other issues related to Women, Youth and Children.
The Meeting noted with satisfaction the progress of women empowerment project titled “strengthening livelihood initiative for home-based workers in SAARC region” which is being implemented under the Social Window of SAARC Development Fund (SDF) in collaboration with SEWA, India.
The Fourth Meeting of the Technical Committee was held in Kabul in December 2009. The Committee reviewed the status of implementation of recommendations of previous Meetings of the Technical Committee and emphasized the Member States to make every effort in the implementation of the recommendations in a timely manner.
The Meeting recommended development of a reporting mechanism or a format for reporting of national progress to the Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children. In this regard the Meeting appreciated the offer of Bhutan and Nepal to jointly prepare the concept note. In view of the success of the First Workshop, the Committee appreciated the offer of India to host the Second Regional Workshop on Child Labour during 2010.
The Fifth Meeting of the SAARC Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children held in Kabul on 16-17 July 2011, agreed that there was a need to re-programme the approach to be able to address the realization of Gender Equality and Empowerment in the region. The Technical Committee, therefore, endorsed the SAARC Gender Equality and Empowerment Programme. The proposal was approved by the Seventeenth SAARC Summit held in Addu City on 10-11 November 2011. UN Women has agreed to extend services of a Gender Specialist to the SAARC Secretariat to coordinate this programmme.
During the Seventeenth SAARC Summit, the Leaders have directed convening of an Inter-governmental Expert Group Meeting to discuss the establishment of a regional mechanism to ensure empowerment of women and gender equality in the region, with focus on national legislations, including timely realization of the MDGs and SDGs. The Inter-governmental Expert Group Meeting was held in Maldives from 11-12 March 2013 and proposed to constitute Gender Policy Advocacy Group (SAARC- GPAG) for Empowerment of Women and Gender Equality in the region.
The SAARC Gender Info Base is a South Asian repository of qualitative and quantitative data and information on gender related issues and women empowerment. The Seventh Review Meeting of the SAARC Gender Info Base (SGIB) held in Islamabad, Pakistan from 25-26 March 2014, 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 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women CEDAW Concluding Observations.
Sixth Meeting of Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children held in SAARC Secretariat from 2-3 September 2013 recommended modifications to the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group. The First Meeting of the SAARC-GPAG was hosted by Pakistan from 26-27 July 2015.
Pakistan hosted Seventh Meeting of the Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children from 28-29 July 2015 in Islamabad. The Committee finalized the SAARC Youth Charter, which will be placed for signatures during the next session of the Council of Ministers, if agreed by all Member States.
Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution
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.
A Regional Task Force has been formed to monitor and assess the implementation of various provisions of the Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution and SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia.
The Regional Task Force has met in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013.
During the First Meeting of the Regional Task Force (New Delhi, 26 July 2007), the Meeting agreed to exchange information on best practices by the respective Governments, NGOs and members of the Civil Society to combat Trafficking in Women and Children. It was decided that a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to implement various provisions of the Convention, including reporting under Article VIII (5) and repatriation of victims of Trafficking and related matters as defined in the Convention, would be developed. The Third Meeting of the Regional Task Force (Shimla, May 2009) finalized the draft Standard Operating Procedure.
Furthermore, the Special Session of Regional Task Force held at the SAARC Secretariat in April 2010 prepared the draft outline for the establishment of two regional Toll-free helplines dedicated for women and children respectively. Women and children survivors or victims of violence or discrimination can then dial up these numbers to seek help and support irrespective of the country they are in South Asia.
In line with the recommendation of the Regional Task Force, a detailed proposal on the establishment of the Toll Free Helplines was submitted to the Eleventh Meeting of the SDF Board (Thimphu, 6-7 November 2011) for funding. Pursuant to the approval of the project, in its 15th Meeting of SAARC Development Fund (SDF) Board of Directors in Thimphu on 27 - 29 May 2013, the cumulative progress of the project from the start of the project up to 31st July 2013 is as following:
i) SDF Board approved the project subject to respective Governments assurance towards:
a. Toll free number across all telecom operators; and
b. Project sustainability plan when the SDF funding ends.
ii) Participating countries are in the process of fulfilling above conditions.
iii) So far SDF received guarantee letter from Government of Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
The recent status of the toll free helpline project is as follows:
he draft Project Financing Agreement (PFA) for Bangladesh component of the project is almost finalized.
Since Bhutan does not have baseline data and target indicator for the project at the moment, they have decided to withdraw from Phase-I of the project and join Phase-II when they complete the VAC (Violence against Children) study in 2016. The same was communicated to SDF via letter dated May 19, 2015. SDF forwarded the letter of IA Bhutan to the focal official of Counterpart Agency of Bhutan for feedback. SDF is yet to receive any response from the Counterpart Agency of Bhutan in this regard.
SDF was informed by the LIA via email of date May 19, 2015 that the former Implementing Agency (IA) of Sri Lanka, i.e. Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs has been divided into two separate Ministries namely the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Ministry of Children’s Affairs. Due to the change in the IA of Sri Lanka and having two separate IAs, SDF has since requested the LIA and IA, Sri Lanka further information/documents required to initiate filling of the PFA.
The project is still pending implementation with the Member States.
Furthremore, the Thirty-third Session of the Council of Ministers (Thimphu, 7-8 February 2011) observed that the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution has been weak in dealing with prevention and suppression of trafficking in women and children in South Asia. As approved by the Third Meeting of the SAARC Interior/Home Ministers, the relevant Technical Committee may examine the issue related to a review of the Convention and consider necessary improvements.
The Fourth Meeting of the Regional Task Force to implement the SAARC Convention relating to Trafficking in Women and Children (Kabul, 25-26 November 2011) while discussing the concept note by Bangladesh on elaboration of the existing SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for prostitution noted difficulties from legal and technical points of views. The Meeting agreed that the Secretariat would explore the way forward in this matter in consultation with the Member States and welcomed the offer of Bangladesh to develop a new concept note on the way forward in dealing with matters relating to trafficking in persons. This would be circulated by the SAARC Secretariat for the consideration of the Member States.
The Fifth Meeting of the RTF (Thimpu, 11-12 April 2013) discussed the revised Concept Paper from Bangladesh and “agreed to bring changes to the Convention to reflect current realities of trafficking and an Expert Group Meeting shall meet to discuss and draft changes to the Convention on Prevention and Combating trafficking in Women and Children for prostitution”. The Expert Group met on at the Secretariat on 16-17 October 2014 however no consensus was reached on broadening the scope of the Convention at this stage. The Group recommended that changes may be made in the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) of the Convention for holding the meeting of Regional Task Force at least once a year and the next Expert Group meeting may be held in the first quarter of 2015 for at least 4 days.
During the 5th RTF, Bangladesh offered to host the Sixth RTFand India offered to develop a common reporting format for time bound monitoring and reporting of the implementation of the two Conventions and the Regional SOP on Trafficking adopted at the 37th Session of the SC (Thimphu, April 2010). Formal requests have been sent to Bangladesh and India.