Thiruvananthapuram, Dec 22: Hailing Kerala as the ‘lighthouse of the global south’ in women empowerment, UN Women entered into an agreement that recognized the state government’s Gender Park as South Asia’s hub for gender equality.

While the world body reiterated that Kerala has been a role model for the rest of the world through exemplary leadership in gender equality initiatives, Chief Minister Shri Pinarayi Vijayan described the partnership as a “step in the right direction” to further the cause of a “just and equal society”.

 Dr P T M Sunish, CEO of The Gender Park which is an autonomous body under the state government, signed the MoU with UN Women Deputy Country Representative Ms Nishtha Satyam at Cliff House the Chief Minister’s official residence here. The two officials exchanged the agreement, marking the start of many ambitious projects where the UN Women will offer project development and capacity building to The Gender Park for the empowerment of women in South Asia.

“Undoubtedly, Kerala is one of the best places in the region to emerge as a hub of gender discourse,” Shri Vijayan said. Noting that the state’s women are among the country’s most educated, he quoted a recent official survey that cited a rise in female workforce participation to 20.4 per cent in 2018-19 from16.4 per cent in 2017-18.

The Chief Minister stressed the need for social enterprises and businesses to be gender-inclusive so as to empower communities. “This is important for us to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030,” he said, adding that the government looks forward to the cooperation with UN Women and its contributions to Kerala society.

Recognizing the state’s efforts towards championing gender equality, as a token of appreciation, UN Women presented a memento to the Chief Minister.

Earlier, Minister for Health, Social Justice and Women & Child Development Smt K K Shailaja noted that The Gender Park provides gender related policy advice, research, education and social initiatives to reduce gender gaps in society. The Gender Park’s flagship projects handhold aspiring women entrepreneurs by giving them “unlimited opportunities” to move forward. Recalling the government’s meeting in October last year with Ms Satyam, the minister said she is happy to formalize this association.

Smt Shailaja listed the programmes the government has been carrying out with the aim of gender equality and empowerment of the transgender community, and remarked that thousands of women comprised the state’s army of Covid-19 warriors. She also highlighted some of the prominent projects of The Gender Park – acting as a convergence point for all gender-related activities in the state- a gender library and a museum, besides an iWTC that will be the world’s first global trade centre for women — all of it in the Kozhikode campus.

Ms Satyam, in her keynote address, lauded pro-women steps such as Kerala’s 24/7 She Taxi, the three-tier community network to empower women, jobs for transgender persons and stress management amid the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. While gender remains “underinvested” even as there is rhetoric around the notion, women empowerment is a key to sociocultural development.

“The introduction of pink wheel patrols to ensure the safety of women in public places, training women police personnel and an armed women police battalion in 2017 are some of the examples of gender equality measures in Kerala,” Ms Satyam said. “I congratulate the Kerala government setting gender equality as a priority.”

Mr Biju Prabhakar IAS, Secretary, Social Justice and Women & Child Development, said the Gender Park’s partnership with the UN Women is set to accelerate and widen the activities of the 2013-founded Gender Park headquartered in Thiruvananthapuram.

He gave a brief idea of the projects and programmes on gender equality. The partnership agenda includes a Gender Data Centre at the Park’s 24-acre Kozhikode campus that also houses an International Institute for Gender and Development.

UN Women established in 2010 works with the all strata of society to promote gender equality. Its Delhi chapter comprises India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and the Maldives. The organisation provides advocacy for budget and national planning with a view to empowering women. The UN Women Multi-Country Office located in Delhi will support Gender Park to develop it into a South Asia hub for gender-related activities.