IORA agreed to establish women’s economic empowerment as a special area of focus at the 13th Council of Ministers Meeting in Perth, Australia on 1 November 2013. The Perth Communiqué reflected the decision of IORA Foreign Ministers to “work together to ensure that the people of the Indian Ocean region have access to the best possible levels of education. The empowerment of women and girls in the region is a high priority for IORA.”
Several subsequent Ministerial and Thematic Ministerial Declarations have further advocated for women’s empowerment such as the 2014 IORA Ministerial Economic Declaration which stated that “the prosperity of the region will only be realised fully by investing in the empowerment of women” and the 2015 Ministerial Padang Communique, which reaffirmed “commitment to the importance of women’s economic empowerment as an effective driver of economic growth and development”.
IORA has included women’s empowerment in all project proposals within the Association’s six priority areas and that has contributed significantly to IORA’s progress in advancing gender equality. To date, IORA has also held five dedicated women’s empowerment events in Kuala Lumpur, Hyderabad, Seychelles, Jakarta and New Delhi and more are under preparation.
Looking to the future, the IORA Action Plan also identifies women’s economic empowerment as a key priority area and sets out flagship initiatives to be achieved between 2017-2021 to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. These are to establish an IORA Working Group on Women’s Economic Empowerment and a Women’s Business Forum in the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum (IORBF); cooperation with UN-Women and relevant organisations for capacity building and information exchange; champion initiatives to increase women’s economic empowerment such as the Women’s Empowerment Principles; implement training and capacity building programs; and to organise activities strengthening women's economic capacity and participation in business.
Notably, on 27 October 2016 in Bali, Indonesia at the 16th Council of Ministers Meeting, the IORA Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment was adopted. This declaration upholds important principles which recognise the empowerment of women and girls as being essential to the economic and social prosperity of the IORA. Member States pledged to promote women’s human rights by affirming that the following:
Promoting Regional Cooperation for a Peaceful, Stable and Prosperous Indian Ocean, was a key outcome from the Leaders’ Summit held in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the IORA in Jakarta, Indonesia on 7 March 2017 and reflects the commitment of the IORA Members at the highest level to re-affirm the principle of gender equality and empowerment as central to realising inclusive sustainable economic growth.