SAARC - South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was established when its Charter was formally adopted on December 8, 1985 by the Heads of State or Government of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

SAARC provides a platform for the peoples of South Asia to work together in a spirit of friendship, trust and understanding. It aims to accelerate the process of economic and social development in Member States.



SAARC Gender Related Issues

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.




Chetan Chauhan, Hindustan Times

New Delhi, July 25, 2007


SAARC Meeting Focus on Human Trafficking

Worldwide reprimand for South Asia for its poor record on human trafficking has brought SAARC nations together to discuss the ways to check the illegal trade across borders.

Top officials from SAARC nations will discuss a plan to operationalise SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution on Thursday. The convention was signed in 2002 and ratified in 2004.
Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury said "The meeting will focus on rescue and rehabilitation of women and children and look ways to increase partnership on containing trafficking. We are also looking at an extradition policy for traffickers".
The SAARC countries will also share best practices in countering the problem during the meeting, Chowdhury said.

When questioned about the US threat to put India in a Tier-3 watch list of countries where trafficking of women and children is a matter of concern, she said, "I don't like someone watching over our shoulders. We are sensitive to the issue. We have signed protocols and agreements. No one should question our commitment to the issue."

From January 1 to June 30 this year, 342 cases of trafficking of women and children have been registered, 596 victims have been rescued and 817 traffickers have been arrested in the country, she said.

Chowdhury informed her ministry is preparing a database of missing children.

She said a meeting of enforcement agencies would also be held for discussing ways to stop trafficking through the porous borders. An inspection of all women's homes in the country will also be carried out, Chowdhury said.

The two-day conference will also discuss micro-finance for women in the region. "Microfinance is the most empowering tool for women. It has radically changed lives of a large number of women," Chowdhury said.

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