LAHORE - Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif has said that there is a need to promote bilateral trade and economic relations among Saarc countries and Saarc Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Saarc Chamber of Women Entrepreneur Council will have to play an active role for this purpose. He said that more than 50 per cent population of Pakistan comprises women and bringing them into mainstream of development is essential for realising the dream of progress and prosperity. He said that Punjab government has taken far-reaching steps for empowerment of women and protection of their rights. He made an appeal to women to come forward and contribute towards national development and prosperity.He was addressing South Asia Women Conference at a local hotel, here on Thursday. Delegates of seven South Asian countries attended the conference. Ambassador of Nepal in Pakistan Bharat Raj Paudyal, Chief Executive Officer Pakistan Trade Development SM Munir, Member National Assembly Pervaiz Malik, Provincial Minister Zakia Shahnawaz, assembly members as well as a large number of women belonging to various walks of life were present on the occasion. The Chief Minister said that Pakistani women are very talented and rendering invaluable services in various sectors of life. He said that though women have proved their mettle in all fields of human endeavor still they will have to play a more active role. He said that women are fully benefiting from Punjab Educational Endowment Fund, laptop scheme and small loans programme. He said that 50 per cent share has been reserved for women in small business loans programme of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif which is Rs 50 billion. He said that the purpose of empowerment of women is to bring them into mainstream of development. He said that journey of progress and prosperity started by Punjab government through revolutionary measures in education, health and other sectors would continue. He said that the targets of development cannot be achieved without overcoming extremism, terrorism and intolerance. He said that various programmes of Punjab government are helping in overcoming poverty, unemployment and extremism. He said that trends of intolerance and extremism will have to be curbed for regaining the lost status in the comity of the nations. He said that government is making progress in the right direction but a lot has still to be done and women have to come forward for accelerating the process of development. He assured that Punjab government will provide complete support in this regard. The Chief Minister announced land and other facilities for handicraft village of SAARC Chamber of Commerce & Industry and setting up of women garments zone in the garments zone for business women and said that Punjab government will give more resources to them than the ratio of their population if they join the process of development. He said that it is time for practical steps. Vice President Saarc Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Iftikhar Malik presented a shield to the Chief Minister while the outgoing chairperson of Saarc Chamber of Women Entrepreneur Council belonging to Nepal Parmila Acharia Raja presented a special memento to member national assembly Shaista Pervaiz Malik on becoming the new chairperson. The Chief Minister appreciated the services of outgoing chairperson while congratulated Shaista Pervaiz Malik on her appointment as new chairperson.