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BIMSTEC: A Fact File

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Sampa Kundu:

BIMSTEC is bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi -Sectoral Technical Economic Cooperation. It has seven members; namely Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal and Bhutan. BIMSTEC was formed in June, 1997 with four members- Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Later, in November 1997, Myanmar was included as a member and in 2003 both Nepal and Bhutan were granted membership in the forum. Primary objectives of BIMSTEC are to create an enabling environment for rapid economic development, accelerate social progress in the sub-region, promote active collaboration and mutual assistance on matters of common interest, provide assistance to each other in the form of training and research facilities, cooperate more effectively in joint efforts that are supportive of, and complementary to national development plans of member states, maintain close and beneficial cooperation with existing international and regional organizations, and cooperate in projects that can be dealt with most productively on a sub-regional basis and which make best use of available synergies (source:

BIMSTEC was initiated by Thailand as a part of its Look West Policy through which the country wanted to build up a trustworthy and cooperative relationship with its neighbours located in its western side, particularly with south Asia and Africa. The idea of such a forum was welcomed by India. India’s interest in BIMSTEC should be understood in the contexts of Look East Policy, the failure of SAARC, the Myanmar factor and Northeast India. Firstly, in 1991, India launched its Look East Policy and since its inception, one of the primary objectives of India’s foreign policy was to further relationship with its eastern neighbours, i.e. the countries in Southeast Asia. BIMSTEC provided India with the opportunity to maintain a good rapport with at least two Southeast Asian countries- Thailand and Myanmar. Secondly, the decade of 1990s saw a rapid growth in regional institutionalism and formation of trading blocs across the world. But, unfortunately India was not involved in any one of these regional mechanisms. It left India with a feeling of isolation. India strongly felt that its power of negotiation with the big major powers in the world would depend on its involvement in some influential regional arrangements. India’s own regional arrangement, SAARC proved to be a failure by that time. SAARC could not strengthen intra-SAARC regional trade. Moreover, Indo-Pak rivalry was not letting SAARC to reach a consensus on any important issue. Thus, India felt that it should be involved in some kind of regional instrument. It was the time when Southeast Asia was emerging very swiftly- both economically and strategically. Thus, India decided to make friends in Southeast Asia through which it would be benefitted- both economically and strategically. In this given situation, BIMSTEC was seen as a linkage between south Asia and Southeast Asia and India secured its position in the forum as one of its founding member. Thirdly, India’s Northeast is the meeting point of South Asia and Southeast Asia. In fact, four Northeastern states, Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh have unfenced borders with Myanmar, which is the entry point to Southeast Asia. Therefore, to make the northeastern region a true gateway towards Southeast Asia through Myanmar became important for India. Hence, India embarked on several transport and connectivity projects to link Myanmar and the rest of Southeast Asia with India via northeast India. BIMSTEC covered this issue of transport and communication under its ambit and Myanmar’s involvement in BIMSTEC helped India to enhance the connectivity. Fourthly, India’s northeast is overwhelmed by insurgency, cross border migration, arms smuggling, drug trafficking and so on. And Myanmar is assumed to be involved with all these problems- therefore, India was seeking for a platform where both India and Myanmar can express their concerns over the mentioned issues and try to settle the disputes. BIMSTEC was this platform.

These were the reasons why India was interested on BIMSTEC. Till date, BIMSTEC had two Summits- the first one was held in Thailand in 2004 and the second Summit was organized in New Delhi in 2008. It has identified fourteen priority areas where all the member countries would cooperate with each other; these areas are as follows-

Ø Trade and Investment

Ø Transport and Communication

Ø Energy

Ø Tourism

Ø Technology

Ø Fisheries

Ø Agriculture

Ø Public Health

Ø Poverty Alleviation

Ø Counter Terrorism and trans-National Crime

Ø Protection of Bio- Diversities/Environment and Natural Disaster Management

Ø Culture

Ø People-to-people contact

Ø Climate Change

Each sector has a respective leading country with coordinating country responsible for the sub sectors. India is responsible for Transport and Communication, Tourism, Counter Terrorism and trans-National Crime, Protection of Bio- Diversities/Environment and Natural Disaster Management.

BIMSTEC countries have signed a Framework Agreement on Free Trade Area (BIMSTEC FTA) which aims to create a free trade area within BIMSTEC region by 2017 as a whole. In December, 2009, Foreign Ministers of all the member countries have signed the Convention on Cooperation in Combating International Terrorism, Trans-National Organised Crime and Illicit Drug Trafficking.

An international seminar on BIMSTEC and its implications for Northeast was held very recently in Shillong, Meghalaya (9-10 April, 2010). In the seminar, the importance of BIMSTEC was reiterated by the speakers and participants. It was confirmed that the Trilateral Highway Project between India, Myanmar and Thailand is under construction. Efforts are also taken to improve infrastructure, at the second India — Myanmar border trade point at Phi-Zowkhathar in Mizoram sector by upgrading the Rhi-Tidim and Rhi- Falam road segments in Myanmar. Besides road links, efforts of developing rail link from Jiribham in Manipur to Hanoi in Vietnam passing through Myanmar is also under way. Digital connectivity is another area where work is being carried on particularly through optical fibre cable link between Moreh in Manipur and Mandalay in Myanmar (source:

Briefly this is a fact file on BIMSTEC. BIMSTEC is one of the youngest regional sub-groupings in the region and it has potentials to clear many dark clouds from the regional sky. It has emerged in 1997 and this is 2010, hence, the governments of the member countries should not forget their promises and expectations of the people.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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