'Time is right' to discuss women empowerment, says organiser of upcoming convention for South Asian diaspora

Young women in Khulna, Bangladesh, on Nov 9, 2019. Women's empowerment will be broached for the first time at the South Asian Diaspora Convention
Young women in Khulna, Bangladesh, on Nov 9, 2019. Women's empowerment will be broached for the first time at the South Asian Diaspora ConventionPHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The empowerment of women will be a hot topic at an upcoming regional convention here on the South Asian diaspora.

It is the first time the topic will be broached at the South Asian Diaspora Convention, which is organised by the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) and into its fourth edition since 2011.

"There is a rising consciousness among women, particularly in South Asia, of their rights and various episodes and events that have taken place," said ISAS chairman Gopinath Pillai at a media briefing on Tuesday (Nov 12).

"I would say the position of women in India, or South Asia generally, is changing."

Mr Pillai, who is also Ambassador-at-Large, shared how someone from Pakistan told him on Monday (Nov 11) that the lead on liberalisation in the region is being taken by neighbouring Saudi Arabia.

There, the country's de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has introduced reforms, including allowing concerts, reopening cinemas and lifting a ban on women driving, as part of a liberalisation drive.

"All these - liberalising the dress code and liberalising driving - are all small things, but they add up to quite a bit of freedom for the ladies," said Mr Pillai.

Given the ongoing evolution in women's rights, it is the "right time for us to capture that", he said. Hence the inclusion of women empowerment as one of the convention's seven key sessions.

Other geopolitical and economic topics pertaining to South Asia and its diaspora that will be discussed during the convention include business opportunities and challenges, infrastructure and smart cities, technology in financial services and trends in education technology.


The convention, themed "Vibrant South Asia - Innovative Diaspora", will be held at the University Cultural Centre in the National University of Singapore from Friday (Nov 15) to Sunday (Nov 17).

The plenary session "Women Empowerment in South Asia" on Saturday (Nov 16) afternoon will begin with a keynote address by Ms Indranee Rajah, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office and Second Minister for Finance and Education.

The topic will be discussed by a panel comprising Ms Rasheda K. Choudhury, chief executive officer of Campaign for Popular Education and former adviser to the caretaker Government of Bangladesh, Ms Aisha Khan, chief executive of the Civil Society Coalition for Climate Change in Pakistan, and Ms Vani Tripathi Tikoo, a member of the India's Central Board of Film Certification. It will be moderated by Yale-NUS Associate Professor of Sociology Anju Mary Paul.

More than 800 guests are expected to attend the three-day convention, where speakers will include over 30 of the region's leading policymakers, business leaders, academics and civil society leaders.

During the gala dinner on Friday, an award for Outstanding Member of the South Asian Diaspora will be given in recognition of the recipient's outstanding lifetime achievements which have impacted his or her field, as well as the wider society.

Its past recipients include the late former President S R Nathan in 2016.

For the first time, a Special Lifetime Achievement Award will also be presented. The award is for a Singaporean of South Asian descent, who has contributed significantly to his or her field of profession.

"The convention will reinforce Singapore's position as a hub for international commerce and business connection, and entrench Singapore's position as a global thought leader," ISAS said in a statement.

"More specifically, Singapore serves as an important node for business networking among the South Asian diaspora as well as between the diaspora and business communities in East Asia and beyond."

The convention will conclude with a cricket match on Sunday featuring top South Asian cricket stars such as India's Zaheer Khan, Sri Lankan T M Dilshan and Abdur Razzak from Bangladesh.