The motivation for forming regional bodies is thus simple. Neighbours are better off if they are friendly and not fractious. Regional cooperation is supposed to create the necessary atmosphere for converting foes into friends. Admittedly, mere membership of a regional organisation would not do the trick, but as part of a regional arrangement there is bound to be plenty of interaction among members and, as these links become thicker, the expectation is that the incentive to use force to resolve disputes will decrease.
The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established on 8th December 1985. Promoting peace, stability, amity and progress in the region, was the first line of the SAARC charter. The SAARC includes the eight South Asian countries viz. Pakistan, India, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. The SAARC Secretariat is located in Kathmandu, Nepal. The annual summit meeting of the heads of governments and states is the highest decision-making body.
The Council of (Foreign) Ministers, which meets twice a year, assists the summits. With about 2.5% of the world’s land surface area, the South Asian region has 17% of the world’s population. The idea behind establishment of SAARC was to establish better cultural and social ties amongst the member states to promote peace in the region. In a competing world, where we see countries forming groups like the EU, ASEAN, AU and so on, SAARC could be a pillar for the countries of the South Asian region to establish their identity in trade and also to alleviate the afore mentioned evils persistent in the region.
An active participation of the fifth estate (social media) and citizen journalism can strengthen people to people contact and hence bring about regional integration. With 35% of the youth in this region, the region is the work force of the 21st century when the rest of the world has an ageing population. Apart from regional cooperation in various fields, women empowerment is another factor which this organisation is promoting since long. Improving gender equality could significantly boost growth in advanced economies over the coming decades.
To cope with the challenges, SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council (SCWEC) was established on March 29, 2001 in Colombo Sri Lanka with the objective of developing and promoting women entrepreneurs in the South Asian region. The Council works towards facilitating co-operation and networking among the women entrepreneurs of the SAARC region.
It is an effective platform for strengthening the intra-regional development of women entrepreneurship for economic development thus helping to exchange information on entrepreneurial skills and building trade links among the women of the SAARC region.
To create strong role models and to draw inspiration from and to recognise the exemplary success of women entrepreneurs in the SAARC region, the SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneur Council (SCWEC), under the leadership of its Chairperson, Rifa Mustapha hosted the first ever SAARC Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, on the 2nd of March, in Colombo. Afghan woman entrepreneur Zarghona Walizada won the SAARC Women Entrepreneur Award at the first SAAR Women Entrepreneur Awards. One outstanding woman entrepreneur among nominees from each of the SAARC nations received the prestigious title of ‘SAARC Woman Entrepreneur of the year 2018’ at a glittering function that had participation of women business owners from the region.
Women business leaders from SAARC gathered in Colombo for the awards ceremony plus knowledge workshops, to collectively find fresher avenues to economic and societal challenges in the region as well as first-hand networking opportunities. A designer showcase with a fashion gala was the showstopper, where designers from each of the SAARC countries of Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Maldives, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka has displayed their design to a choreographed capsule with performances also from each of the countries.
SCWEC Chairperson Rifa Musthapha said,“The inaugural international award is our affirmation and recognition of the trail blazing success of women entrepreneurs in our neighbouring countries. By giving them the spotlight, we are creating outstanding role models of themselves and their businesses which SCWEC wants to amplify in no uncertain terms and help catalyse seamless cross border trade and investment.”
“The business model propagated by SCWEC upholds the belief ‘by the women, for the women, and to the women’ said Rifa Musthapha. “It is a sustainable, revenue generating enterprise that gives stakeholders the opportunity to be actively involved and engaged in manufacturing and distributing the product. This model will be replicated in select townships in each of the SAARC countries.”
SAARC funded project on “Network and Capacity Building of Women Entrepreneurs from SAARC Countries (NCBWESC) is also in progress in the member countries. The ultimate objective of this project is to promote women entrepreneurs network for advancement of their businesses. IMF managing director, Christine Lagarde recently revealed that more women in the workplace could boost economy by 35%. Lagarde has made female empowerment a key goal for the IMF since joining the Washington-based organisation in 2011.
According to World Bank economic report, South Asia is expected to remain the fastest-growing region in the world. Growth should further strengthen to 7.1 percent on average in 2019-20, reflecting a broad-based improvement across most of the region. In the fast-pacing world of today, we see women breaking glass-ceiling of patriarchal society, and doing exceptionally great in any field we talk about. Whether it is politics, sports, business, arts, science, or any other arena, women are leading with a rapid pace and proving every day that sky is the limit for them.
In over last 20 years, women entrepreneurship has seen a paradigm shift in its growth which has been acknowledged by SAARC Chamber Women Entrepreneurs Council. In January this year, two-day South Asian Regional Conference ‘Weaving the Web’ held in Kathmandu. Addressing the opening session, Secretary General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation Amjad Hussain B Sial said, “Since the promotion of women’s welfare and empowerment is at the forefront of SAARC’s agenda, we greatly value the holding of this Conference to strengthen partnerships among women in the region.”
The conference, which is organised by Sankalpa, Women’s Alliance for Peace, Justice and Democracy has brought together eminent women representatives from South Asian countries to discuss measures to promote the welfare of women in order to bring them into the mainstream of socio-economic development. This shows another commitment by SAARC to promote women of the region.
Besides the SAARC Social Charter, there are several other inter-governmental mechanisms dealing with the promotion of the status of women. They include Ministerial Meetings on Women; Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children; SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group; and Regional Convention to combat trafficking of women and children for prostitution. SAARC is also collaborated with several UN Specialised Agencies, including UNWomen, in promoting women’s welfare and empowerment. Lots of things regarding women empowerment been done but still there is a lot which has to be done in future when we talk about SAARC or related bodies.
A fundamental reason we have not yet achieved gender equality in every realm is that women and girls’ voices are too often excluded from global and national decision-making. When programmes and policies are designed without women’s needs central to their foundation, we’re setting ourselves up to fail. If grassroots women had been adequately consulted in designing the MDGs, decision-makers would have been able to anticipate that girls would still be held responsible for many home chores, caring for younger siblings and fetching water.
There has been much progress in increasing access to education, but progress has been slow in improving the gender sensitivity of the education system, including ensuring textbooks promote positive stereotypes. This is critically important for girls to come out of schools as citizens who can shape a more equal society. In some countries, there is a tendency to assume that things are fine as long as there is equal number of girls in schools. SCWEC is playing an important role in this process by creating an enabling environment for women to empower themselves. They can do this by removing barriers that women face, such as a lack of resources, information, or access to markets. They can facilitate conversations with powerful elites and also with men, who still control many aspects of women’s lives.