Curtain raiser: Women step up for peace in South Asia

“The power of feminine wisdom, the spirit of solidarity, and a vision tinted with empathy”

NEW DELHI: Prominent Indian actor-director Nandita Das and British-Afghan journalist Najiba Laima Kasraee are among 45 speakers from across South Asia and the diaspora at an all-women summit this weekend discussing solutions for peace, social justice, gender equality and a unified South Asia.

Titled “South Asia Union Summit Led by Women” the virtual event organised by eShe magazine brings together historians, economists, academicians, authors, activists, artists, thought leaders, entrepreneurs, lawyers, educationists, and media personalities from over a dozen countries.

Event founder Aekta Kapoor: It is women who most suffer from violence and war.

“Conflict, war and militarisation come at an unimaginable cost – to life, resources, freedom, social justice and the basic principles of humanity. It is women who suffer the consequences of war, violence and extremism the most,” says Aekta Kapoor, founder editor of eShe and its nonprofit initiative, South Asia Union.

The SAU aims to bring together peacebuilders and particularly women from the region to work towards a political and economic South Asian Union, along the lines of the European Union, by 2030.

“It is time women stepped up to build peace in South Asia using the power of feminine wisdom, the spirit of solidarity, and a vision tinted with empathy,” adds Kapoor, a former fashion journalist based in Delhi who has two daughters.  

Her eShe magazine’s first such venture was an India-Pakistan women-led summit in January 2021, featuring discussions with Academy Award-winning filmmakers, renowned authors, humanitarians and feminist activists from India and Pakistan including Mehreen Jabbar, Sabiha Sumar, Alankrita Shrivastava, Avni Sethi, Sheela Reddy and Moni Mohsin.

Now, eShe has expanded its scope to all of South Asia, where traditional social injustices along with continuous political conflict have perpetuated oppression and inequality for large sections of the population.

Prominent speakers include pioneering Pakistani feminist lawyer Hina Jilani, Bangladeshi environmentalist Khushi Kabir, and former commissioner of Sri Lanka’s Human Rights Commission Ambika Satkunanathan.

Renowned Indian educationist and peacebuilder Dr Meenakshi Gopinath who heads Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace is supporting the event. Collaborators include journalist-filmmaker Beena Sarwar, peacebuilder, editor of Aman ki Asha and founder-curator of the South Asia Peace Action Network launched earlier this year, who will also participate in the event.

The summit is timed to coincide with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and UN’s International Day of Non-Violence. Three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr Scilla Elworthy, founder of Business Plan for Peace, Oxford, UK, and one of the advisors for the peace initiative will give a talk preceding the event which will be broadcast live over social media.

A dozen panels will take up key current issues ranging from the impact of “religious” extremism on women’s rights to the urgent need for girls’ digital literacy. Drawing lessons from the region’s history, scholars including Rita Manchanda from Delhi, Ravinder Kaur from Copenhagen and Salima Hashmi from Lahore will discuss how not to repeat the crimes and injustices of the past.

Leslee Udwin, the award-winning British filmmaker of the documentary India’s Daughter based on the 2012 Delhi rap case; Fawzia Naqvi, Pakistani economic policy advisor and former vice president, Soros Economic Development Fund; and prominent academic Dr Radha Kumar, conflict-resolution consultant to the Indian government, will share views and experiences.

Representation of women in media and pop culture will be taken up at a panel including actor-author Saloni Chopra. Indian actor and casting director Dolly Thakore and Canadian-Pakistani social activist Samra Zafar will share their experiences about single motherhood in South Asia, timely in the context of a West Bengal actor-politician being trolled for having given birth out of wedlock last month.

Topics like ‘Voice and Vulnerability: Women Activists in Times of Conflict’ and ‘The Burden of Tradition: Gender Equality and Social Justice in South Asia’ will be discussed keeping in mind the situations prevailing in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

Participants include Veena Sikri, former Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh and convener of the South Asia Women Network; and philanthropist and peace activist Sarita Kumari Sodha, who hails from a Rajput family in Sindh, Pakistan, and is married into the Ghanerao royal family in Rajasthan, India.

Enabling humanistic leaders will be covered in a session with speakers like actor-producer Vani Tripathi Tikoo, whose outreach programmes focus on encouraging participation of women and youth in politics.

Summit leader Aekta Kapoor plans to make South Asia Union Summit Led by Women an annual event to facilitate people-to-people contact across borders, create a safe space for dialogue, and enable courageous conversations on social and political change.

The full agenda and schedule are at the event page on eShe.

Press registration: Journalists may sign up at this form to receive press releases and video links for each session.

Sapan News Service


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